NATO: The Largest Quagmire in Afghanistan?

I’ve pointed out many time previously the growing frustration over the lack of sizable efforts on the part of most NATO countries in Afghanistan. When discussing the Iraq campaign, critics like to say things like “everyone supported going after Afghanistan, but the US threw all that goodwill away when it invaded Iraq.” Except that the “support” from “everyone,” even our close allies, was often lip service at best. Actual, measurable, helpful support has been hard to come by from most of our supporters.

Afghan province counting on Marines

As the most powerful Afghan official in the troubled southern province of Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai says he knows just how to tame the shadowy Taliban campaign of suicide bombs and assassinations that have raised the specter of a country sliding toward anarchy.

He wants more American soldiers on the ground.

“The Canadians are fine, but Americans are Americans — the mentality is different,” said Karzai, chairman of the provincial council in Kandahar where the Canadian-led military mission has struggled to contain the regrouped Taliban.

Now, I certainly think everyone should be careful about selling the Canadian short. Considering the size and condition of their military and strong opposition internally, they’ve actually had pretty solid success and are a vital part of Afghan strategy. They just don’t have enough boots on the ground to do more than try and hold the line, and the “support” they receive usually isn’t good enough. As they’ve shifted to more stability-type missions rather than direct combat, it has allowed the insurgency to keep up the fight while the Afghan military and police struggles to get itself online.

Canada PM tells Sarkozy it may pull out of Afghanistan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Canada will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan unless NATO sends reinforcements, his spokeswoman said.

Speaking by telephone Tuesday, Harper first thanked Sarkozy “for the assistance France has provided to Canadians seeking to leave Chad in the wake of the violence there,” spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said in an e-mail.

They then discussed a new report by a committee led by former deputy prime minister John Manley that urged Canada to keep its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan only if its NATO allies send at least 1,000 additional troops and equipment, including helicopters and drones, to bolster the Canadian force.

Honestly, 1,000 additional troops is a drop in the bucket. 1,000 would barely be noticeable. Sadly, 1,000 may also be undoable for NATO. Shameful, really.

‘Real test’ for NATO in Afghanistan: Rice

Rice is in London holding talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband as the United States and Britain bid to draft in more NATO forces to help fight the resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

The talks come the week after Germany rebuffed US calls for more troops in the south, the scene of most of the fighting against the Islamist militia, in a tiff played out publically.

Rice said they were engaged in “a different fight than the one NATO was structured to do”, conceding: “It has taken some time”.

She’s a diplomat now, so it’s her job to lie lie lie while in negotiations. And she’s doing a fine job. Playing the part of the understanding and supportive friend while really meaning that most of Europe ain’t done jack must be a tough role.

Australia wants more NATO troops in Afghanistan

Australia wants Europe to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has said that the European countries should “ensure that we have the number of troops necessary to ensure we get long-term success in that country”. Australia is not a NATO member state but is supporting the mission with 1,000 troops and has no intention of sending more for the time being.

Australia isn’t even in NATO and has 1,000 troops in Afghanistan. Yet NATO can’t muster that number to keep Canada from pulling out in frustration?

And why is it that we’re constantly looking at the US, the UK, and Australia doing so much of the heavy lifting? Canada in Afghanistan is certainly welcome, and others have made efforts in certain times and places. But it’s basically been a US-UK-Australia war in many respects. [Clarification: By “war”, I meant the overall war against terrorism, which I generally refer to World War 4. Not just the Afghan campaign of the war.]

UPDATE: This just in:

Germany Agrees to Expanded Military Role in Afghanistan

Sounds good until you look at the fine print:

Germany will deploy around 200 combat soldiers in northern Afghanistan, but will not move its troops to the country’s more violent south, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

German troops will be sent to replace the Norwegian contingent scheduled to leave Afghanistan this summer. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung confirmed the deployment at a press conference, saying that it was important to maintain the quick response force.

And then there’s this: Afghan opium output may drop slightly in 2008: UN

Afghanistan’s vast and lucrative opium production may drop slightly this year from a record spike, but world-high cannabis output is likely to rise, a United Nations survey released Wednesday said.

Opium from Afghanistan, which makes up more than 90 percent of world supply, will likely earn Taliban insurgents tens of millions of dollars over the year, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) chief Antonio Maria Costa said.

It will continue to be grown at an “alarming rate” in the insurgency-hit south and southwest, perhaps more than last year when it accounted for 78 percent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan, said the survey.

A major problem that we’re faced with is that that potential for Afghanistan’s success as a nation is severely limited by the lack of solid economic potential. Iraq, for instance, has lots of oil and a strategic location. Afghanistan has neither prime real estate nor a sure-fire resource. Well, other than drugs.

It has been suggested that the US should buy Afghan opium for medical uses. I must say that I would be open to proposals for something along those lines.


  1. The general rule of thumb for a long time has been: ‘If they don’t speak English, they won’t be any help.’ The Polish, Dutch and Koreans made meaningful contributions in Iraq. The Spanish and Italians were there – then went home after doing nothing. Now the Germans and French are in Afghanistan and doing nothing.

  2. General observation – NATO was never intended to be a fighting organization. It was intended to be a way for the US to influence and coordinate European defense spending. In return, the US committed large numbers of troops in Europe as a trip wire against the Russians. For the most part, no one ever thought that NATO would be able to withstand a Soviet attack without nukes. (Well that was until Reagan came along, by the mid 80’s there was some thoughts that might be able to hold fort.) Now that the big bad bear is gone. We get the reap the fruit of labors. Germany, France, and low countries, are big on moral superiority and short on testicular fortitude. Given their demographics, its only going to get worse. We really should just move on. Our alliance structure is outdated. Our chief non-anglo ‘allies’ are worse then useless, they are more of a hinderance. We really should align ourselves more with our eager allies of Eastern Europe Poland & Romania the rising powers of India, Vietnam and Turkey.

  3. But it’s basically been a US-UK-Australia war in many respects …’ Not certain where you got this, but since the Aussies are ramping up to 1000 troops and the Canadian Battle Group has been at some 3500 for two years, I suggest something is incorrect in the calculus. Cheers JMH

  4. Sorry, JMH. I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. I was referring to the wider War on Terror, which I call World War 4. Afghanistan is one major campaign in the war as I see it, and Iraq is another. I certainly meant no slight to the Canadian contribution in Afghanistan, which I believe I made clear in the post. I also have a huge amount of respect for the Polish contribution, but, again, they are of the more limited variety in the overall picture. I will put a clarification in the main entry.

  5. I worked in Kandahar from Aug ’06-mid Jan ’07 in a counter narcotics program, and from mid Jan ’07-mid May ’07 in a policing training/advisory program. Definitely a bumpin’ area; I’d say there were an average of 25-40 casualties every week I was there. I’ve met the Provincial Governor (who let on he didn’t understand English very well, when in fact, he was very fluent in it), who my principals advised and consulted with (on counter narcotics). I did not meet anyone in the US, NATO, or ISAF military, or any NGOs who did not think both the Provincial Governor and Wali Karzai were heavily involved in the drug trade. The DoS sponsered CN programs were fractured between three different contractor operations (Civil Affairs/statistics/alternative cash crops, Eradication, & Air Wing), and paid only lip service to actually eradicating poppy production. 40% of the Afghanis economy is drug based and if any significant inroads into it were made, the Karzai Government would be toppled within 90 days. We all talked extensively about this amongst ourselves then went through the motions of counter narcotics. While escorting my principals to and from the living site to the work site (and other locations, usually about 10-15 miles), we routinely drove by poppy filds growing to maturity and harvest. Permission had to be secured from the Provincial and National Afghani Government authorities (Ministry of Interior, Counter Narcotics, and the ANA) prior to any actual field eradication. The Afghanis designated which fields could be targeted (not at all unusual to have other poppy fields growing next to the target field/s and left untouched), under no circumstances would they allow spraying (due to ecological concerns! LOL!); poppies had to be dragged or more often, cut down by hand (after being allowed to reach maturity) to be hauled away by the Afghanis! Both my principals (in the CN program) were Canadian, and we frequently worked with or went on runs with the Canadian Military. I have nothing but respect for them and their efforts under some of the most difficult conditions in Afghanistan. They were dead serious about what they were trying to do, and kicked ass and took names. They routinely extended every courtesy and assistance (and then some) to us. Great people to work with! Of course we (Americans) dogged them mercilessly for being a bunch of liberal socialist whiners who wanted to group hug the Afghanis, and they recipricated by berating us for being a bunch of knuckle dragging, trigger happy red necks! LOL! I have a TON of respect for the Brits, Dutch, Romanians, Aussies, & New Zelanders as well. They’re all pulling their weight (and then some) in the Stan.