Skip to content

A Shared Mission in Afghanistan?

"If the European allies in NATO do not get to determine the mission on equal footing, they should leave the US to fight it alone," says Nanne Zwagerman in the following guest blog post. Nanne is a Dutchman living, working and studying in Berlin. 
 

nanne The war in Afghanistan is a controversial topic in many European countries. Where in Germany there is discussion on the extent to which German troops can support combat, the Netherlands has been actively fighting an increasingly intense insurgency in the southern province Uruzgan since 2006. Within three weeks, the Dutch government is supposed to decide upon continuing the mission beyond July 2008. It can be expected that it will be continued, though this will depend upon further commitment by other NATO countries.

In Uruzgan, the Dutch have tried to apply an 'ink blot' strategy, which is focused on weaning the local population from supporting the Taliban, de-escalation and gradual expansion of a zone of security within which reconstruction can take place. Success has been mixed as the Dutch have not managed to expand the zone of security much. They have found it difficult to cope with the Taliban, who do not hesitate to apply terror in the villages outside of Dutch control, killing and maiming even children that cooperate. Recently the Netherlands seems to be gradually abandoning the strategy, as it is focusing more on fighting the Taliban.

Although the principles behind the Dutch strategy were promising, it was on the whole naive. Not because the tactics were too soft, not even necessarily because the Taliban has no scruples about the methods it uses. The reason is that the Dutch can't draw up a strategy in isolation. The Dutch force is but a small part of the international army in Afghanistan. Uruzgan is not an island. The Netherlands can't drive a wedge between the local population and the Taliban with 1,400 troops in Uruzgan when 20 to 30 thousand other troops are antagonising people of the same ethnic group in the surrounding provinces.

 

One of the problems in Afghanistan is that there is no plausible strategy for winning the war. The goal of NATO currently seems to be to enable the central government in Kabul to take control over the country. When the central government can control the territory, has eradicated the poppy industry and established a functioning free market, NATO forces will be able to leave, perhaps a small contingent in one or two bases that can be amically agreed on. The tactics to establish this overall strategic aim focus on fighting the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan.

This overall strategy, however, ignores the dominant local power structure in Afghanistan, where power often is truly local. It also ignores the fact that the current government is mainly made up of elements of the former 'northern alliance', which in turn was made up out of various smaller ethnic minorities. The Taliban are a movement among Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. Hamid Karzai is also Pashtun, but he has lost his ability to unite by association with the northern alliance, and recently, the US and NATO.

There are 13 million Pashtun in Afghanistan, and a further 28 million live across the border in Pakistan. As William Lind has stated in his briefing 'out of the frying pan', a strategy that focuses on enforcing a government that has little perceived legitimacy among this dominant ethnic group, while fighting a movement that can count on considerable support among it, is a strategy for failure. If we are not to fight a perpetual war in Afghanistan, a different power sharing arrrangement will have to be found, which includes a fair amount of power for the Taliban.

Unfortunately, the US currently shows no signs that it is ready to move towards a realistic strategy. The US is the dominant force in the NATO operation in Afghanistan (ISAF), supplying the command, half the 35,000 troops, and it still has 8,000 troops operating outside ISAF. The US also shows no sign of readiness to let other countries have a say in the way it conducts its operations.

When members of a Dutch parliamentary delegation recently raised the issue of Guantanamo with the - Democratic! - chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, they were scolded to show some more gratitude for having been liberated from the nazis 62 years ago. What the US does with prisoners caught in Afghanistan is apparently none of the Dutch government's business. This is a continuation of the US approach to the war on terror in general, which is that 'the mission determines the coalition, the coalition does not determine the mission'.

If the European allies in NATO do not get to determine the mission on equal footing, they should leave the US to fight it alone.

Nanne blogs irregularly on DJ Nozem and is a member of the European Tribune

Trackbacks

No Trackbacks

Comments

Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Elisabetta B on :

If the European allies in NATO do not get to determine the mission on equal footing, they should leave the US to fight it alone. Could not agree with you more. Dont forget to round up the locals into a neat camp like last time before you leave.

Nanne on :

Elisabetta, what last time are you talking about? Iraq? Kosovo?

Migeru on :

Elisabetta is referring to Srebrenica, of course.

Nanne on :

I know. Aside of the statement being false (we did not round up anyone, the Serbs did that, or the international community if she refers to the settlement), it ignores that the Dutch had two more joint operations with the Americans since Bosnia.

Anonymous on :

Always the same attempt to shut up critics: If criticism of US policy in Iraq or Afghanistan comes from a German, then mention WWII or lack of gratitude for Cold War as reasons why Germans should not criticize the US. If criticism of US policy in Iraq or Afghanistan comes from a Dutchman, then mention cowardly behavior in Bosnia. If criticism of US policy in Iraq or Afghanistan comes from a Frenchman, then mention WWII or Algeria. Nobody has the right to criticize the United States, because of past mistakes. Besides the US is working hard to spread freedom. Debating 101: Always bring up someone's country's past mistakes to deflect from specific criticism of today's policy.

Elisabetta B on :

I think it is more the sheer chutzpah of Nanne. The hubris that one combat batallion from a nation of 18 million (which isnt doing very well either) automatically grants a nation an equal position to argue tactics and strategy. No one else thinks that's laughable?

Badboy Recovered on :

It doesn't matter what we American's think. Don't you know that by now?

Don S on :

Whether we americans think at all is a matter of debate in some circles. But I'm certain you know that... ;)

Nanne on :

Elisabetta, Perhaps you misunderstand. I don't expect that the Dutch will get the same amount to determine as the US. I do expect the US to determine its actions in Afghanistan - all of them - in coordination with its allies, which supply nearly half the troops in Afghanistan and might just supply a bit more if the US would let them co-determine the overall strategy. It does not do so, and it has not done so from the start.

Elisabetta B on :

Nanne: Somewhat valid point; however its presumption is on an operational level that a consistent and uniform Rules of Engagement battleplan could be drawn-up and that constituent Nato governments would stop meddling with the ISAF corps. That has not happened since the occupation began and I dont see it happening in the future. I will throw back your old German 'Ohnmacht' argument back at you. America does not coordinate NATO's actions because it can not. We are powerless to influence the domestic political considerations of NATO members, much less parliamentary dictates on rules of engagement. Artcile 5 has been invoked by NATO members and according to the treaty's stipulations the Netherlands should be at war. It isnt though and never really was. Hell, who in NATO spends 2% of their budget on defense? Germany doesnt. Do the Dutch? There is not much we can do to influence European policy so we ignore it, muddle on and hope the Europeans can reach some accord amongst themselves.

Nanne on :

Elisabetta, As you mention NATO invoked article 5. It did so on September 12th, 2001. The American response was along the lines of 'well, gee, thanks, nice of you guys, but we don't want another cumbersome NATO operation like Kosovo'. Let's not forget that part. We could have been fighting the war on terror together from the start. Of course, this might have impeded upon short-term operational expediency for the US to some extent, but it would have made the long-term operation much more legitimate in the eyes of the Europeans and probably also internationally. This was recognised by many as a mistake, early on. See for instance the summary of a Council of Foreign Relations debate on September 29th 2001, [url=http://www.cfr.org/publication/6040/nato_and_united_states.html?breadcrumb=%2Fregion%2Fpublication_list%3Fid%3D396]here[/url]. [i]The degree to which NATO should or should not play a more active role in the war on terrorism was at the heart of the debate. One view was that the terrorist attacks on the United States have made NATO more relevant than ever, that they had validated the need for the Alliance to reorient itself along the lines of the Washington summit of 1999, and that the United States had a unique historical opportunity to rebuild and reshape the trans-Atlantic relationship for decades to come. The Bush Administration was criticized for being too timid in grasping this opportunity. In addition, it was argued that NATO’s role in fighting and winning the war in Afghanistan had to be tangible and comprehensible for the American public. The United States, having proclaimed that NATO is its premier military alliance and the institution of choice when it acts together militarily with Europe, made the political and strategic mistake of failing to take up the offers of its European allies to participate in this war. The political benefits of such participation to both the war effort and for the trans-Atlantic relationship were enormous and exceeded whatever added difficulties that might be encountered by involving additional countries in this effort.[/i] Your point that the US can't determine European policy is right, but this is a give and take situation for both sides.

Anonymous on :

As you mention NATO invoked article 5. It did so on September 12th, 2001. The American response was along the lines of 'well, gee, thanks, nice of you guys, but we don't want another cumbersome NATO operation like Kosovo'. Let's not forget that part. I am not attempting to be snarky, but the American decision was operationally advisable to say 'no, thanks guys'. The Kosovo operation was a military disaster with French generals calling Brussels for clearance on specific targets. That is no way to fight a war even against an inferior opponent. The Europeans have allowed their armed forces to decay to an alarming level of ineffectiveness. Almost 10 years post St. Malo, the EDF is a pipe-dream. There is an lack of operational cohesion between NATO members and an obvious lack of sophisticated materiale for the way the Americans make war. No one in Europe invested in modern communications equipment. Even the Brits are nicknamed the 'flintstones' in Iraq because their kit is old and they have to borrow gear from our soliders. Offering unconditional solidarity and then not-being able to perform is not much of a gift. We could have been fighting the war on terror together from the start. Of course, this might have impeded upon short-term operational expediency for the US to some extent, but it would have made the long-term operation much more legitimate in the eyes of the Europeans and probably also internationally. I dont believe that basic premise to that statement. Nothing that has happened in Europe post 9.11 leds a rational mind to deduce that the Europeans would act any different than they have. Even with the most internationalist legal foundation possible, the Europeans have been lukewarm about fighting and putting forth a serious military effort. Strange too since Islamicist thought endangers their societies more than ours; why the Dutch ever thought than dirt farmers from the Atlas Mountains would integrate is beyond me. Musing aside, there is no societal will for an extended deployment in force on the continent.

Nanne on :

[i]I am not attempting to be snarky, but the American decision was operationally advisable to say 'no, thanks guys'. The Kosovo operation was a military disaster with French generals calling Brussels for clearance on specific targets. That is no way to fight a war even against an inferior opponent.[/i] Why not? The Kosovo operation certainly worked out a lot better than Afghanistan, so far. Maybe restriction had something to do with that. Not necessarily, there are important differences. But I don't see why the US army is so frustrated about a war which NATO won and where there is a more or less stable post-war situation. [i]I dont believe that basic premise to that statement. Nothing that has happened in Europe post 9.11 leds a rational mind to deduce that the Europeans would act any different than they have. Even with the most internationalist legal foundation possible, the Europeans have been lukewarm about fighting and putting forth a serious military effort.[/i] The goodwill for the US after the attacks was very real. Whether it would have lasted for 6 years if the US had tried to use it is something we don't get to test. I think that you can tie your allies into an operation by giving them a stake and giving them a say. It's not merely about willpower.

elisabetta on :

I lived in the Netherlands during the attacks and after for two years. The goodwill was very real yet not backed by any concrete proposals. The attitude shown was very similar to yours. I had so many 'we have a right to be consulted' debates with pointless provincials and armchair generals...shudder. There was never the feeling that one received from say Howard, 'this is no time to be a second-rate ally'. Never was there any inclination in any of the papers/magazines Trouw or de Telegraaf (I used to wade through those) that the Dutch were considering or even prepared to engage the more extremist facets of the Islamic world in the extended conflict where we currently find ourselves. There was no will to rearm the dutch army to a level of sophistication where integrated communications with the US forces was possible. Even the Brits refused to spend the money. There was no call by your fearless Queen Maxima I mean Beatrix to stock up on gouda and get on those bicycles boys, we're going to war. Any assertion to the contrary is just flat wrong, disingenuous and part of this revisionist mythos that frankly annoys. Y'all werent going to do shit. I was there. Kosovo is still a EU province almost 10 years after the war. It has no functioning government and only the cash from Brussels keeps it from devolving into civil war. Moreover the nature of the conflicts were not similar by any stretch. Kosovo was basically a series of glorified puntitive air strikes against militia and unprotected infrastrucutre; sorry bout that China. The Afghan campaign, the Iraq war and should the campaign extend to Iran is another beast entirely. The religious elements we fight are not able to be bought off or cowed easily by a few hundred JDAMs and the inability to get turbofolk on the TV isnt going to bother them. NATO should it continue to exist will be in Afghanistan for decades. Perhaps not as an occupying force, but it shall serve as a first hurdle buffer against the re-establishment of any Salafist entity. Think American armoured divisions in Germany to pacify the blood-thirsty hun. It helps keep the frighteners away from the Poles, Danes and French even when it is quite unneccessary.

Fuchur on :

[i]There was no will to rearm the dutch army to a level of sophistication where integrated communications with the US forces was possible. [/i] Is that really the case? Obviously, Nato became aware of this problem (incompability of weapons systems, outdated equipment, etc within Nato) 10 years ago, during the Yugoslavia war. As a result, there was the 2002 Prague Capabilites Commitment. FAIK, there has been real progress after that. Am I mistaken? Do you have examples where the poor level of "sophistication" hinders cooperation between e.g. the Dutch and the American forces? Another imortant point to mention is that it's not only about spending more money. Within multi-nation organization, certain incompabilities are just inevitable. You simply cannot expect that every single nation goes along with every whim of the US DoD. All these calls about more military spending and especially the 2% benchmark are quite silly IMO. You don't spend just for the sake of it. First, you have to tell me what e.g. the Dutch army is lacking in equipment, and how that hampers their engagement in Afghanistan. Then we can talk about money. IMO, money is not the problem. It's lack of political will. Which brings us back to Nanne's point. [i]Y'all werent going to do shit.[/i] Just that we didn't act as if this was WWIII doesn't mean we "didn't do shit". Almost all the Nato allies have suffered casualties in Afghanistan - and they're still there. Besides, if you demand sacrifices from your allies - what about the US? You threw a few bombs on Tora Bora and then declared mission accomplished and hustled off to poke into the next wasp nest. And now you complain that the Europeans didn't take Afghanistan serious enough?

Anonymous on :

As a result, there was the 2002 Prague Capabilites Commitment. FAIK, there has been real progress after that. Am I mistaken? Do you have examples where the poor level of "sophistication" hinders cooperation between e.g. the Dutch and the American forces? -The Dutch army has and does call in airstrikes on entrenched, fixed positions using Cold War equipment. There are not examples of antiquiated Dutch military equipment hampering military 'co-operation' b/c there is no military co-operation on a close tactical level in Afghanistan. NATO brass does not even attempt to place German or Amis with the Dutch or Italians. That's why they have official demarcated zones of operations instead of a fluid field of operations. All these calls about more military spending and especially the 2% benchmark are quite silly IMO. You don't spend just for the sake of it. First, you have to tell me what e.g. the Dutch army is lacking in equipment, and how that hampers their engagement in Afghanistan. Then we can talk about money. Whether or not a 2% minimium floor is silly or not, the Dutch government agreed to it and have not fulfilled their responsibilities. Just that we didn't act as if this was WWIII doesn't mean we "didn't do shit". Almost all the Nato allies have suffered casualties in Afghanistan - and they're still there. Nanne's position was that the goodwill squandered through inattentiveness to our European allies might have crystallized into a firm foundation for more support, more troops and less bitching. I think that is incorrect and non-reflective of at least the mood and political elites were saying in NL at the time. No one is belittling the sacrifices that NATO states have made, we are belittling chutzpah of one State out of many with a tiny number of soliders demanding a complete overhaul of tactics and strategy because they are losing.

Fuchur on :

[i]Whether or not a 2% minimium floor is silly or not, the Dutch government agreed to it and have not fulfilled their responsibilities.[/i] No, no - that's a common misunderstanding! The 2% are not a treaty obligation, but a mere guideline.

Anonymous on :

They agreed to the guideline. Whether it is a binding obligation under public international law or not, is irrelevant. If your response to shirking your responsibility is pointless legalism, NATO is definitively in the sorry state most people think.

Joerg on :

[b]I really appreciate your comment, but I would love them, if you could take a few seconds to put a name into the comment field. Any name. Come up with one name and then use that name for every comment. Only takes a few seconds and it is very appreciated. Besides, you can check the option "Remember Information." Then you don't have to enter your name at every comment. There are several anonymous commentators and it would help and stimulate debate, if we could better keep you apart. Thanks.[/b]

Fuchur on :

To differentiate between a guideline and an obligation is not pointless legalism, it's plain common sense.

Pat Patterson on :

A just recently found letter from Achilles to the Myrmidons reveals that he had complained bitterly that Thetis wouldn't intervene and that Achilles, because he had so few men, was not consulted by Agammenon concerning the war against the Trojans. Coupled with earlier missives from Odysseus to Ithaca complaining that the Mycenean king was too bloodthirsty and made had made any diplomatic solution impossible shows that Agammenon ignored his allies. It's now obvious that the allies were demanding to be fully consulted and their agreement sought before any acts were taken against the kidnappers of Helen. What army in the history of the world has not been commanded, and complained bitterly about their subordinate position, by the nation with the largest amount of troops in the WTO? During WWI the AEF was under the direct command of the Marshall of France, Gen Foch throughout the entire war. And in World War II in the early parts of the war after 1941 the US troops being sent to the UK were under the command of the British until the bulk of the American forces arrived in Britain. At which point Dwight Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander. A little research would also have revealed that there are American units in the ISAF that are under the direct operational command of officers from other countries. The last time the Dutch had any say as members of an allied army was probably during the 30 Years War. I doubt if that will happen again.

Migeru on :

The US will strain NATO to the breaking point like Athens strained the Delian League to the breaking point.

Badboy Recovered on :

Hmmm, This opens up a few interesting theory's.

Anonymous on :

The Delian league began to unravel when Athens nationalized the treasury at Delos and implemented a draconian tax regime to fund their naval build-up. The Fischkoepfe get a free ride.

Badboy Recovered on :

No i was thinking about your modern day scenario and who and for what reasons it would be happening. Why push when you know it will break? Unless someone wants it to break.

Anonymous on :

"American units in the ISAF that are under the direct operational command of officers from other countries." Three or four?

Badboy Recovered on :

It took him eight paragraphs to say... "I dont want Dutch troops in this war." 1,400 huh. - Not impressed. Use whatever excuse you think sounds best, Gitmo, people not listening to you, or whatever you can think of if those two don't work. Just take them and go Nanne. No hard feelings. We have accepted that europeans aren't up to it. So we're not mad. Really, we're not!

Martin on :

"1,400 huh. - Not impressed." America has had 150,000 troops in Iraq and 40,000 in Afghanistan for several years and still has not won against a bunch of insurgents without professional military equipment and training. Not impressed, Uncle Sam.

Badboy Recovered on :

Oh im sorry - i wasnt talking about OUR contribution. I was referring to YOURS! But since you brought it up, if OUR 40,000 troop are having trouble. Whats with the bitching about YOUR 1,400 not being able to do anything?

Anonymous on :

You forget that 1.400 is actually a bigger percentage of the Dutch population than 17.500 is of the US's population. For the Netherlands, this is a big deal and you should be impressed they're willing to submit a larger part of their population than the US does. About the Trojan war: much good did his abuse of power do for Agamemnon, first his biggest fighter refused to participate in the war because of his attitude (and only came back because his best friend got murdered by the Trojans), then the war was finally won, after nine years of fighting, thanks to a list thought of by one of his allies (which shows that the war was won through cooperation). And when Agamemnon got home he was murdered by his wife and her lover. But that's just a funny detail.. So you see history teaches us to listen to our smaller allies for they might have bright ideas helping the good cause. The aim of the Dutch in Afghanistan is not to win a battle, it's to rebuild a country, so it doesn't matter when they last won a battle.

Anonymous on :

The indignancy of the 'I demand to be consulted' cry does not work here. When did the Dutch actually win a battle? The battle of Chatham wasnt it? Were the Dutch capable of acting independently to say instigate and complete a military campaign that accomplishment might elicit some respect, outside of your dubious notion of peacekeeping. The Dutch military spent the 20th century on the sidelines (hugging the Hun while Belgium got raped), or on their back (Dordrecht, Indonesia). Now your argument is that regardless of your military and political failures, you are not responsible because there is not a consistent strategic plan for the ISAF. Talk to the Germans, Poles, Danes and Italians. No one is stopping the Hague from taking the rostrum and coming up with something. I think you will have a hard time convincing people to abandon a centralized, federal government and replace it with a Lebanese/ Balkan model, but give it a go. Anything other than this shrill complaining and transparent attempt to deflect the stink of failure.

Badboy Recovered on :

I think we need to stop talking about things that long ago - doesnt help anything going on today. They are just fishing for an excuse to leave - lets just let them go.

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
CAPTCHA

Form options