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Europe Surging in Afghanistan?

That's what Daniel Korski notes in his latest ECFR policy brief. Factually, a lot of European countries have already sent more troops in Afghanistan, and still more are on the way there. Between November 2006 and March 2009, European troop levels increased by nearly 9,000, and European troops now make up nearly half of the ISAF mission. This has been the result of a set of (mostly) quiet revolutions in national policies on Afghanistan. At the same time, Europe still has not delivered a clear common strategy on Afghanistan, which is lamentable.

Korski makes some considered recommendations for an EU policy, which is very welcome, considering the lack of consideration on the official levels. At the same time, his ideas call for a critical review. Korski offers a list of seven policy recommendations, which are:
  • A twin process of reconciliation with the Taliban and constitutional reform to be launched
  • EU to field a large election observer mission and NATO to deploy the NATO Response Force for an election-focused boost to ISAF
  • NATO allies to improve training of the Afghan army by setting up a Military Advisory Force, a Military Advisory Centre and launching a NATO training mission for non-basic army training
  • EU to grow its police mission by hiring 500 officers on the open market, including from third states, like Ukraine, Moldova, Morocco, Serbia and Turkey, while reconciling the roles of the US CSTC-A and EUPOL
  • EU states to support the establishment of a special UN-backed serious crimes tribunal, located in Kabul or elsewhere in the region, to take on drug kingpins
  • US and EU to call for a new UN “assistance envoy” for Pakistan and to organise a donors’ conference
  • EU to launch a “capital reconstruction team” for Kabul to guarantee a concerted focus on security and reconstruction
The notion of starting a tribunal for drug traffickers as a form of nation building is an innovative idea, and a temporary boost in troop numbers in the weeks leading up to the elections also sounds like a good plan that could bring real results as well as goodwill for an effort that is managable for Europe's militaries and can be sold to the domestic electorate.

Korski's suggestions on increasing the police mission and focusing more on gendarmerie-style police is perhaps growing to be a kind of conventional knowledge. At least, I also heard the exact same suggestions with regard to Iraq at a recent conference of the Boell Stiftung. Europe does have sufficient capacity for that on a national level, so going to the 'open market' is, well, a bit of free-marketese as dressing. Involving more countries is mainly helpful for the perception of legitimacy, and for general international cooperation, but it can also cause practical difficulties.

Where Korski and I differ is in his focus on the central government. Korski is sceptical of the American strategy to replicate their Anbar policy in Afghanistan. He notes that some European countries note difficulties in this regard, but it seems that the main European countries all support the basic idea of buying off local Pashtun power brokers by funding militias. In fact, Britain has long been trying to do so itself but has failed because of opposition from within the Afghan and the previous US government.

Another suggestion from Korski in this regard is to spend most of the aid money through the Afghan government, which is going to fall short on funds due to requirements for the nascent Afghan army. This, however, points to one of the few big gaps in the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy: we are setting up an Afghan national army which the country itself is not going to be able to pay for in the forseeable future. Directing funds through the national government also ignores the major issue of corruption within that government.

Most of the conditions in Afghanistan seem to speak for an approach of focusing on local capacities and keeping most funds for reconstruction under strict control. There are pitfalls to focusing on local government and also on local security, where it is needed in the form of militias. The (first) rise of the Taliban itself was facilitated with the population's and the international community's fatigue with feuding warlords, so we should be highly aware of the possiblity that we will fuel future conflicts.

There are a few things missing from Korski's piece that are on my wishlist, first and foremost the move to a single command under ISAF and a concomitant end to Operation Enduring Freedom (continuation of some of OEF activities could be done under a much smaller mission exclusively made up out of special forces). This is also part of the package of actions called for in a recent report of the Asia Society. That report is focused on US policy, but a single command (we already have a single commander by now, so it would not be a big organisational issue) should be especially in the interest of European NATO countries.

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Pat Patterson on :

Nanne-Unless Europe has been dropping in ghosts their commitment in Afghanistan is more or less identical to that of last year and really back to late 2006. The difference is that the US, for the most part has increased its commitment to the ISAF from 19,000 troops to 29,820 as of the middle of March 2009 compared to April 2008. While Germany has sent 255 more than last year, France has sent 1,350 more and the rest of Europe has sent extra troops numbering in the single digits. I fear some slight of hand has occurred in that Korski has used the extra commitment of the US to NATO and implied that the 9,000 troops sent by the US are somehow European sourced. And that the extra troops, that the US and the ISAF deem lacking in quality and numbers, have been in country for years. France just recently made its radio frequencies become capable at the company level of talking to Americans to request air strikes if needed. Germany still has not and tactical decisions, even though officially made by NATO/ISAF are still referred to the German embassy and then to Berlin. A surge has to involve more than just pointing at plates in the cafeteria to prove increased strength. The first link is to March of 2009; http://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/placemat_archive/isaf_placemat_090313.pdf And this link is to April of 2008; http://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/placemat_archive/isaf_placemat_080404.pdf Also since at least 2006 Europeans have supplied almost 1/2 of the troops to the NATO led ISAF so it is a little late to brag on that point. But there are also another 32,000 American troops that are not part of the ISAF. In fact by going to Korski's complete report its obvious that this recent "surge" happened two to three years ago and has been virtually unchanged since 2008. Korski makes it clear that he sees no real change in European policy in regards to more troops, changing the ROE or OTB and they seem especially worried of the US plan to arm Pushtun tribesmen in a program similar to what the US did to help strengthen the Sunni Awakening and the Sons of Iraq.

nanne on :

Pat, the contribution of Europe Korski calculates also includes the UK, which now has over 3,000 more troops in the area compared to January 2007. So, I don't think Korski is playing tricks with his numbers. Of course, whether you can call this a 'surge' is rather questionable. It's more a gradual increase. Korski's hint that European countries would be wary of a program similar to the Anbar awakening seems more a reflection of his own preferences, as the only country he points to in that regard is Denmark. Nothing against Denmark, and Rasmussen is the secretary now, but it's not a country that can determine much. The UK has been itching to do this for a long time, and Merkel and Sarkozy also claim that the new American strategy is what they wanted all along. So I think that the differences are overblown. Of course you still have the issue that there are operational constraints on the troops of many countries, but now that there will be a sizeable increase in troops from the US, this will be less pressing. The Germans are now actually worried that the increased pressure in the south will displace fighters to their relatively peaceful area in the north, and one result is that they are adding some 500 troops to their contingent.

Pat Patterson on :

Agreed, the passage about the US troops was poorly written by me and I didn't mean to state that Korski was intentionally counting troops as being from different sources. But it is obvious that the "surge" took place mainly in 2006 and 2007 and certainly not, except for the French, last year. Plus with the influx of another two new US brigades the US will have over half of the troops in the ISAF. And unless the days of "I See Americans Fighting" becomes passe then any new influence that Europe sees for itself will remain a mirage.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"going to the 'open market' is, well, a bit of free-marketese as dressing" Well maybe its a sop to the free marketeers. It could also be a coded reference for a trial programme of hiring central european mercenaries, but of course no dares to call it that. Don, you've finally got your central European stimulus! ---- I have been a cautious advocate of an Afghan "surge" by which I mean, a COIN strategy. But it will fail if NATO assumes that the "human terrain" in Afghanistan is such the same as the "human terrain" in Iraq. It isn't just a matter of finding the money and making the difficult moral choice to buy off former enemies who in many cases have our boys' blood on their hands. You also have to make sure you buy off the right people. Missing from the recommendations: Why not deploy some of Europe's academic talent towards increasing our understanding of the "human terrain" in Afghanistan?

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