NATO revisits Afghan strategy

19th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

With the United States calling for a more aggressive, longer-term strategy in Afghanistan, NATO is under pressure to review and renew its efforts.

Krakow – NATO defence ministers reviewed strategy on Afghanistan Thursday, under pressure to match fresh American efforts to combat a virulent Taliban-led insurgency.

At talks in the Polish city of Krakow, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was to spur his allies on to meet the massive challenge the militia poses to NATO's Afghan operation, its biggest and most ambitious ever.

Of particular concern is the spectre of insurgents, including Al Qaeda, and drug runners with rear bases in Pakistan, undermining the elections in August. The election is seen as a litmus test of NATO's efforts to help spread democracy.

The meeting comes just after Washington announced the dispatch of 17,000 extra troops, heaping new pressure on European allies to match the new Obama administration's efforts.

But Gates will seek civilian help from nations unable to provide more soldiers, an action in line with the new American "comprehensive" strategy to boost the Afghan police and fight chronic government corruption.

"There is a requirement out there in terms of the desire to have people sign up for additional troops during that period and frankly the response so far has been disappointing," Gates told reporters travelling with him to Krakow. However, "where the allies can make a significant longer term contribution is particularly on the civilian side, on governance, training of the police, development, rule of law issues, corruption, counternarcotics. I hope that it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases, especially for the longer term."

The bulk of the American troops will be deployed in the south, where the insurgency and opium production are flourishing. But more troops will be required to hold ground that has been seized from the Taliban and then build on it.

The lack of troops and equipment has fuelled resentment between allies, with some refusing to deploy to the south, where American, Australian, British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch forces have been suffering casualties.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said that around 10,000 troops will be needed to provide security for the elections on August 20, but few nations have come forward with offers.

Germany confirmed Thursday that it would send 600 extra troops ahead of the polls.

NATO officials have warned that security is likely to be a bigger problem in coming months, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces a "constitutional crisis" with his mandate set to run out in May.

Ahead of the meeting here, the top American commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, warned of "a tough year" ahead.

"Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you, 2009 is going to be a tough year," he said Wednesday at the Pentagon. "There are the baseline problems of poverty, and literacy, and violence that have occurred over the last three decades in that country, so that's not going to turn around quickly. For the next three to four years, I think we're going to need to stay heavily committed and sustain in a sustained manner in Afghanistan."

NATO officials argue that for the counter-insurgency strategy to work, rebuilding efforts must be stepped up and more donations must be made. Moreover, diplomacy should broaden, taking in Afghanistan's neighbours and nations further afield.

"We should follow a more regional approach," Scheffer said ahead of the talks, noting that "stability in Pakistan is of the utmost importance."

Daphne Benoit/AFP/Expatica

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