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March 24, 2008
NATO Must Step up in Afghanistan
It's spring in Afghanistan and time for the annual Taliban offensive. In truth, it never amounts to much - or at least it didn't in the past because allied forces would intercept the groups of 50-100 fighters who would try to inflitrate across the border from Pakistan.
But this year, with the new Pakistan government making noises about negotiating with the tribes backing the Taliban, the enemy may be emboldened to strike even harder at the peace and security of Afghani villagers:
In the last year, Taliban attacks kept about four percent of children out of school. This is often done by burning down the local school, or killing teachers. The tribes support the schools, but if the Taliban can get one of their combat teams (50-100 gunmen) into an area, the tribesmen back down and do what the Taliban want. These Taliban teams are large enough to drive away local police. The Taliban groups can be gone before the Afghan army can show up, and return to keep the locals terrorized. But the U.S./NATO troops are more mobile, and have better intel (UAVs and manned aircraft). If foreign troops are available, the Taliban often get caught, and that's when those items show up in the news, about "20-50 Taliban killed in southern Afghanistan." Last year, over 4,000 Taliban were killed in this way, and the Taliban lost influence in many areas. But NATO commanders can look at their maps and do the math. With a few thousand more troops, they can shut down the Taliban "enforcers" sooner and more often, shutting the Taliban out of many areas permanently. This takes the pressure off more rural Afghans, allowing them to send their kids to school, rebuild roads, get electricity, and generally get on with their lives. Just a "few thousand more troops" would help enormously. France will announce next week an additional 1000 men for the war effort but that is the extent of any additional help that has been forthcoming. For the Germans, who have a sizable contingent in Afghanistan but refuse to put them in harms way, this attitude is breeding resentment among those nations who are doing the bulk of the fighting:
There are 78,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. The 28,000 Americans are all allowed to fight, but most of the 50,000 NATO personnel are restricted in how they can be used. It has been this way for years, and the nations that allow their troops to fight (like Britain, Canada, Denmark, Romania, Estonia, the Netherlands, and non-NATO Australia), are getting angrier at those who will not (especially Germany, which has a large force that is forbidden from going after the Taliban). Anti-war sentiment seems to be growing in Canada while resentment builds in countries like the Netherlands whose troops are operating in dangerous areas where Taliban attacks and suicide bombers are increasing.
For NATO as an organization, this may be the most serious crisis in its entire existence. And there is no sign that most of its members are willing to step up and meet the challenges posed by increased enemy activity and the political opposition at home.