Tuesday, 18 September 2012

UPDATE: NATO Disarray in Afghanistan

The Guardian (amongst many others) has a report on events today in the wake of NATO's scramble to deal with the green-on-blue killings. It is now clear that UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond was not told of the change in cooperation with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) until after he made a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.

Today, he said the change was tactical, not strategic and he didn't interfere at the tactical level. He added that nothing has really changed in UK operations. This statement is at best deeply disingenuous as Mr Hammond must have known this is a major development on the ground. The MOD has said that the US General commanding UK forces in Helmand has pre-approved the current level of tactical operations with ANSF, but this is contradicted by an ISAF statement today which said that exceptions to this rule must be approved by a senior commander.

Since there have been 12 green-on-blue attacks killing 15 NATO soldiers in the past month, it is clear that something had to change. But the way this has been handled and, at a minimum, the appearance of disarray created has undermined ISAF's mission, perhaps for good. How much of an Alliance is it when the US changes the ground rules and doesn't bother to inform a major ally and the country in which operations are taking place? Mr Hammond has been left looking out of touch and weak.

NATO Monitor agrees with Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander when he said:

"But sitting beyond that question is the deeper question: does this represent a temporary tactical response by military commanders on the ground or does it represent a more strategic shift in the mission?"If we are in a position where a regional commander is generally unwilling to grant the authority for troops to go out on patrol with Afghan soldiers, that would severely compromise the capacity of the mission to deliver its objectives."He went on: "The whole of the strategy in Afghanistan now is built around the premise that as the international forces step back, the Afghan forces can step up."That's why I think there are very serious questions for the government to answer in the hours ahead."
And the Monitor also agrees with John Baron, conservative MP who said today that the announcement "threatens to blow a hole in our stated exit strategy, which is heavily reliant on these joint operations continuing until Afghan forces are able to operate independently". 

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