Monday, 23 February 2009

US Defense Secretary Gates on Afghnaistan and NATO

Us Defense Secretary Robert Gates underlined the importance of resolving the Afghan conflict satisfactorily, both for the Obama administration and for the future of NATO as a whole. Speaking at the end of the informal NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Krakow he said that:

.. we all agreed that we must intensify our efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan and to ensure that the Afghans were capable of sustaining themselves. It is, after all, their country, their fight and their future. In the near term, it is critical that the alliance provide enough troops to ensure that the August elections are credible. Part of the reason President Obama chose -- (audio break) -- upwards of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to the theater.

We also must accelerate the growth and size and capability of the Afghan National Army and police, a key goal that still requires more resources from member nations. At the same time, we cannot neglect the need for a long-term increase of civilian contributions and the necessity to improve coordination between civilians and military components.

... I also believe that President Obama's comprehensive review of our strategy, which will be undertaken with our allies and rely heavily on their input, will yield concrete, attainable objectives that will then focus and guide our overall strategy. ... I believe we are facing a very tough test in Afghanistan, but I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion, as we have done so many times before.


Q Canadian Television. You've spoken about increase in the civilian component to the Afghan mission. I wonder if you would find it acceptable for those nations that aren't able or unwilling to send more troops -- whether that would be a suitable alternative. And in the Canadian context, if the Canadian mission is set to end in 2011, could you see an increased civilian role being a replacement in --

SEC. GATES: I think that all of the nations who are engaged in Afghanistan ought to contribute what they can contribute. A number are doing both. We are doing both. The Germans are doing both, in a significant way. The British are doing both -- both the civil and the military side. We are making a substantial addition to the military side, and if other countries are unable to transfer their military commitment but they are willing and able to make a contribution on the stability side, on the development side, those contributions would be very welcome.

I think it's also a point worth making that, you know, the review that the administration has underway is going to be a -- it's not only a comprehensive review in Afghan strategy, it's an inclusive review that includes our allies, non-NATO partners and others. It includes the Afghans and the Pakistanis and others. And in parallel with that, we will be developing what we believe other nations might be able to contribute. And so I think a point worth making is that our new president has not yet asked anybody for anything. We are trying to develop, through this review, what those needs are most likely to be, and at that point, I believe before the NATO summit, we will be making those requests, but as yet they're not resolved.

Gates tied success in Afghanistan to the future of NATO in a forceful way. Given the dificulties thew Alliance faces there, and the lack of operational clarity within the Alliance this is a risky path to take. President Obama will have to work hard in Strasbourg to persuade his fellow leaders to adopt a new strategy for the whole region, to work more closely together, and to allow the commanders on the ground to do their job with less political intereference, if NATO is to have any hope of concluding its presence in Afghanistan with what looks like a victory.

It is clear that simple support for the Karzai government is not enough. NATO leaders must recognise the realities of Afghanistan's complex web of local, regional and (relatively weak) national structures. Many mistakes have been made over the past few years. It is far from clear that htese can be rectified. Now Gates, at Obama's instruction, is laying NATO's future credibility as a military force on the line in a conflict that may, simply, be unwinnable.

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