Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Europe’s Revolving Door in Afghanistan
Inside a German army camp in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
Europeans are fighting in Afghanistan, but they are less and less sure why. President Obama, by his long process of self-examination on Afghanistan and his decision to ramp up troops in pursuit of an exit, has bought himself 18 months or so, senior European diplomats say.
The war is deeply unpopular among the European public, who do not easily accept the notion that their security is on the line in Kandahar or along the Hindu Kush. Still, key European members of the NATO alliance have agreed to go to the well one more time and stump up several thousand more troops for Afghanistan, with France and Germany the noted holdouts.
But after a European-sponsored conference on Afghanistan scheduled for London on Jan. 28, to assess Afghan progress and to discuss new pledges of support and aid, both Germany and France are expected to also increase their troop commitments. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, however, with key regional elections in March, may decide to wait until they are over, especially since he announced that not one more French solider would go to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan under Mr. Obama has increasingly become an American war, with what was once a rough equality of American and NATO troops becoming more than 2 to 1 American. Still, having declared Afghanistan an Article 5 conflict after the attacks of 9/11 — committing NATO to the defense of a member nation, in this case, the United States — NATO members regard some measure of success in Afghanistan as crucial to the health and credibility of the alliance, and have pledged, according to NATO, some 7,000 more troops from 25 nations.
The Italians and Poles have come up with 1,000 more troops each, Britain 500 more. But almost 2,000 of the 7,000 will come from countries outside the alliance (including Australia, South Korea, Sweden and aspiring NATO members, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Montenegro).
At the same time, there is an element of filling a cup with a hole in the bottom. The Netherlands will withdraw its 2,200 troops in the course of 2010; Canada, with 2,800, will be leaving by 2011. That means as American troop levels rise from 68,000 to 98,000 by next summer, allied troop levels are not likely to go much higher than the present 38,000.
American generals regard the European contributions as helpful, but not overwhelmingly so — too many nations, too many small contingents, too many special rules and conditions on how each nation’s soldiers are able to fight the war. But the more Europeans there are, to provide support and security and training for the woeful Afghan army and police, the more the Americans can concentrate on the tough battles and most contested regions.