13 September, 2007 - THE VIEW FROM AFGHANISTAN: MAKING PROGRESS, BUT RE-DEDICATION AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES REQUIRED [PRESS RELEASE]
A delegation composed of six members of the Defence and Security Committee (DSC) led by DSC Chairman Julio Miranda Calha (Portugal) visited Afghanistan from September 2-7, 2007, and Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on September 7-8, 2007. The group, composed of Members from Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, the UK and the US, met with Afghan officials at the national and local levels as well as members of the Afghan Parliament, visited Provincial Reconstruction Teams in different areas of the country, and met with the ISAF Commander and a number of his subordinates.
The delegation found that visible progress had been made since the Committee's last visit in May of 2006. For instance, Members remarked on the increased economic activity visible on the streets of Kabul. Members were also encouraged by the good work they saw performed by the several Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) they visited.
Members were especially encouraged by the excellent performance of the Alliance's personnel in Afghanistan, as well as that of our partners fighting alongside NATO troops. Not only was Allied personnel doing good work, but it was doing so in a remarkably successful multi-national manner. NATO member states were demonstrating interoperability and performing well.
On the other hand, the delegation also came away with a strong concern regarding the critical tactical and strategic challenges hampering efforts to secure and stabilize Afghanistan. The NATO mission still suffers from a lack of personnel and assets, the delegation assessed. While NATO forces are able to clear any given area of insurgents, they do not have enough personnel to 'backfill' and hold a cleared area after a successful operation. Nor are there enough trained and capable Afghan National Security Forces to do the job independently. The end result is the re-infiltration of cleared areas by insurgents, and an inability by local populations to commit to actively support NATO and the central government.
The most pressing needs include: additional trainers to quicken the standing up of the Afghan National Security Forces; additional theater-appropriate helicopters, an absolutely necessity in the rugged terrain and great distances of Afghanistan; and additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, critical for knowledge of the battlespace and a tool that contributes to minimizing civilian casualties.
National caveats overall had been significantly reduced since the Riga summit, and nations with forces in the south, where most of the heavy fighting was taking place, did not have significant restrictions. However, General McNeill, COMISAF, called remaining caveats 'vexing,' stating that they still hampered his ability to concentrate military mass when needed, with sufficient speed to make a difference.
In the non-operational sphere, governance problems continued to plague Afghanistan, a country that has been without effective central government for the past 30 years. This is likely to remain a primary obstacle to the reconstruction of the country for the foreseeable future. Corruption, often linked to the surging drug trade, crippled efforts at every level of government from, for example, the Ministry of the Interior, to provincial governors, judges and police forces. Without dramatic progress in these areas, the vision of a stable and democratic state, responsive to the needs of the Afghan people, will remain unattainable.
The delegation concluded that perhaps the central political/strategic problem facing NATO in Afghanistan was the absence of a well-defined strategic vision for its presence there. While NATO has successfully expanded its presence throughout the country, and while the personnel on the ground is performing brilliantly at the tactical level, the Alliance simply does not yet have a sufficiently explicit goal for what it wants to achieve in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan. Without such a vision, our forces in Afghanistan will continue to perform their current tasks with great success; they may not, however, succeed in creating the fundamental conditions of security and stability necessary for the emergence of an Afghan political solution.
Fundamentally, the delegation came away with a sense that current efforts are making significant incremental progress, but not at a rate that will ensure without doubt an acceptable end state to our mission there. NATO must undertake a fundamental examination and re-definition of its strategic vision for Afghanistan, and immediately provide those resources (both human and financial) necessary to accomplish that vision.
The delegation also took advantage of the visit to hold meetings with Tajik and Allied officials in Dushanbe, Tajikistan September 7-8. NATO is developing a relationship with Tajikistan including assistance with border policing at its 1,206 km-long shared border with Afghanistan, the site of smuggling of narcotics, small arms, and other contraband. Tajik officials expressed optimism that Afghanistan could eventually become a strong commercial partner, principally as a potential corridor for the transport of energy resources to Asia and Europe. The delegation also toured the French military presence at Dushanbe, a major hub for Allied transport into and out of Afghanistan, as well as the current location of French Mirage fighter planes operating in support of international efforts in Afghanistan. The impressive facilities were making an important contribution to Allied operations, the delegation learned.