Monday, August 3, 2009
Nato’s new chief has called on its European members to find more troops for Afghanistan to stop the country becoming “a Grand Central Station of international terrorism”.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he wanted a proper balance between Nato forces from North America and those from Europe to avoid the perception that the mission in Afghanistan was predominantly an American operation.
His remarks, on his first day in the job, came as Nato’s top commander in Afghanistan prepared to demand thousands more American troops, setting him on a collision course with the Obama administration.
Experts who have worked with General Stanley McChrystal on the Afghanistan strategy review say the American commander believes that thousands more troops are needed to save the mission.
They described Afghanistan operations as “dangerously under-resourced” and said General McChrystal has accepted that more troops were needed to train and support a vast parallel surge by Afghan troops.
Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, argued that without a doubling in the number of Afghan troops, from 150,000 to 300,000, the conflict could be lost.
Thousands more Afghan troops are required to hold ground that coalition troops have seized from the Taleban. In Operation Khanjar, 4,000 US Marines are currently fighting to clear the lower Helmand Valley with only 650 Afghan troops to back them.
“If you don’t provide these resources and additional brigade combat teams, effectively doubling the Afghan security forces, unless we are prepared to commit those resources... it’s going to lose,” Mr Cordesman said on his return from Afghanistan last week.
General McChrystal, who submits his review to the White House and Nato headquarters next week is said to be mulling how to reconcile political opposition and military need in determining how many troops he asks for.
Demanding more boots on the ground was the last thing that General Stanley McChrystal was expected to do when he was brought in as the Nato commander in Afghanistan after the unprecedented dismissal of his predecessor, General David McKiernan.
General McChrystal was appointed in the belief that he would bring more unconventional thinking to the Afghan battlefield - in particular, that he would not demand more troops.
Jim Jones, Mr Obama’s National Security Adviser, travelled to Afghanistan last month to warn American commanders not to ask for more troops and urge them to focus on economic development instead.
“If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed,” he said.
President Obama faces opposition on troop increases from his own party, but ignoring the advice of the military commander he hand picked could just as politically risky. Having already sent an additional 21,000 Americans - as requested by General McKiernan prior to his sacking - the pressure to fulfil General McChrystal’s demands is likely to fall on Europeans.
Mr Rasmussen said Nato’s very survival could depend on Europe matching the American commitment in Afghanistan.
“Nobody in the Alliance would benefit from a situation where it looked like the mission in Afghanistan was only American,” he said.
“If the Americans are to continue to regard Nato as relevant, so Europe has to do its part.”