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PublishDate: Monday, October 28, 2013 11:42

NATO reduces scope of its Afghan plans

Military commanders have advocated a postwar mission focused on training and advising Afghans, with a larger number of troops spread across the battlefield. Political leaders in Washington and in NATO capitals have opted for smaller numbers and assignments only at large Afghan headquarters.

After months of tense negotiations over the size and role of a postwar presence in Afghanistan, senior NATO officials say they are planning a more minimalist mission, with a force consisting of fewer combat trainers and more military managers to ensure that billions of dollars in ­security aid are not squandered or pilfered.

The shrinking ambitions for the postwar ­mission reflect fears that the U.S. Congress and European parliaments might cancel their financial commitments — amounting to more than $4 billion a year, the largest ­single military assistance program in the world — unless U.S. and NATO troops are positioned at Afghan military and police headquarters to oversee how the money is spent in a country known for rampant corruption.

Interests conflict
The reduced scope is also a result of conflicting interests among military and political leaders that have been on display throughout the 12-year war. Military commanders have advocated a postwar mission focused on training and advising Afghans, with a larger number of troops spread across the battlefield. Political leaders in Washington and in NATO capitals have opted for smaller numbers and assignments only at large Afghan headquarters.

Any enduring NATO military presence in Afghanistan “is tied directly to the $4.1 ­billion and our ability to oversee it and account for it,” a senior NATO diplomat said. “You need enough troops to responsibly administer, oversee and account for $۴ billion a year of security assistance.”

The senior diplomat — who, like other military officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the alliance’s deliberations — described continued financing to Afghan security forces as vital to avoid political chaos and factional bloodshed after NATO’s combat role ends in December 2014. “It’s not just the shiny object, the number of troops,” he said. “Perhaps much more meaningful is, ‘Does the funding flow?’ ”

Fewer troops
NATO has endorsed an enduring presence of 8000 to 12000 troops, with two-thirds expected to be American. That is well below earlier recommendations by commanders, but senior NATO officials say larger numbers are unnecessary given the more limited goals now being set by the alliance’s political leaders.

The postwar plan depends on a security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan concerning the number, role and legal protection of U.S. troops. But one lesson of the war in Iraq is that domestic politics in the war zone and in Washington can scuttle a security deal, resulting in zero U.S. troops remaining.

Kabul’s desire to ensure the flow of billions of dollars in assistance is one reason U.S. and NATO officials are expressing guarded optimism that an agreement will be reached.

A traditional Afghan ­council is expected to meet in the coming weeks to pass its judgment on the proposed U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement.
(The New York Times)

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