NATO Breakdown in Afghanistan

27 Nov, 2007    ·   2426

Mariam Safi argues that events on the ground contradict the NATO Secretary-General's assertion that the organization has not failed

Mariam Safi
Mariam Safi
Founding Director, Organisation for Policy Research and Development Studies

NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, officially dismissed all accusations of NATO's mission in Afghanistan being a failure. However, there are numerous questions probing the effectiveness of NATO in Afghanistan. With 50,000 foreign troops on the ground why have the Taliban been successful in infiltrating the northwestern and northeastern parts of Afghanistan? If NATO is effective, why have insurgency-related attacks increased from 27 in 2005 to 139 attacks in 2007 resulting in the killing of 1,200 civilians?

Apparently, NATO is retreating from the fact that 2006 witnessed the worst civilian and military casualties since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Noordwijk, Hoop insisted that NATO was making good progress. Despite, NATO's self-congratulation, in reality, the Taliban have successfully extended their operations beyond southern Afghanistan and into the northeastern and western provinces of Baghlan and Farah respectively. In the first week of November 2007, the Taliban successfully captured three districts in Farah. Relying heavily on suicide tactics and road side bombs the Taliban were able to maneuver into Farah which borders Iran first, capturing the district of Gulistan, then Bakwa and lastly Khak-e-Saif. In the south, the Taliban recaptured a third of the district of Arghandab in Kandahar province. Canadian forces told the Canadian newspaper, Toronto Star, that the attacks on Argandab were one of the most organized Taliban offensives they had seen. This has left NATO uncertain of its military strategy and President Hamid Karzai pleading for more troops on the ground.

Seven years after the removal of the Taliban, today a revitalized Taliban insurgency has reemerged. In an effort to oust the Afghan government and NATO forces, the Taliban have in the last two years, with some assistance from Pakistan restructured themselves. Public distrust and agnosticism is growing against the government and foreign troops as civilian casualties rise. From 2005 to 2006, armed attacks by the Taliban, tripled from 1,558 to 4,542 and roadside bombs doubled from 783 to 1,677. Regardless of government and NATO security efforts, 2007 witnessed a 20 per cent increase in insurgency-related violence.

Northern Afghanistan has always been regarded as relatively secure compared to the south and east where suicide attacks are daily occurrences. Taliban insurgency is spreading there as well as reflected on 7 November 2007, in Baghlan; suicide attack killed approximately seventy seven people including six parliamentarians and dozens of school children visiting a sugar factory. Musa Qalan was a district that fell to the Taliban in February after British troops transferred security responsibilities to a weak and unready Afghan police force.

In light of swelling tensions over civilian casualties caused by foreign troops, the British House of Commons Defense Committee published a report that stressed the need for more reconstruction and development initiatives rather than military power to sustain the peace-building process. Titled "UK operations in Afghanistan," the report included key recommendations regarding US support, the appointment of a high-profiled "authoritative individual" to coordinate the activities of the 37-nation coalition, minimizing civilian casualties, deployment of more troops by committed NATO members, more emphasis on training the Afghan National Police Force, and eradication of the narcotics economy and providing alternative livelihoods for farmers. The US and UK must establish communication with Iran and Pakistan as a means to foster regional cooperation and mend efforts to combat the Taliban. In July, 2006, Britain's commander of international forces in Afghanistan warned that the war in Afghanistan was winnable but at the pace it was proceeding, NATO needed to realize that they could actually fail. A year later, referencing the Defence Committee Report, Paddy Ashdown, a former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, asserted that the international community had indeed failed to sustain peace and security in Afghanistan.

The dominant military burden in Afghanistan rests on NATO capabilities, but the response has been disappointing. In reality, the lack of commitment, responsibility and resources of NATO members have led to a rise in insecurity and a decline in political and economic reconstruction. Based on the above facts, it may be concluded, that Hoop's assertion on NATO's "progress" in Afghanistan is misleading.