Reflecting on ten years of United States involvement in Afghanistan, the greatest long-term effect the international community can have in Afghanistan is through continued partnership. Today, nearly a quarter of the world’s nations are working with the Afghan government to rebuild a war-torn society, stimulate economic activity, and develop their security forces. In spite of the violence levels and human costs, the depth of the partnerships has grown over the last ten years. This includes partnerships within the Afghan government through cross-ministerial agreements, partnerships with neighboring states to stimulate trade, and partnerships with global actors to improve security. NATO is at the forefront of this partnership. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently wrote, “the transatlantic partnership remains the main engine of global security. The partnership has been successful in sharing common goals and values, while boasting interoperable and rapidly deployable forces.”

For certain, Usama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida brought the NATO Alliance to Afghanistan. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter, which designated the attack on the United States as an attack on all NATO member states. Troops from certain NATO countries joined the United States when it aided the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban regime, but formal NATO involvement did not immediately begin until NATO assumed formal responsibility for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command in August 2003. At that time, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander General Jim Jones recognized this was, “a clear statement of transition from the 20th century defensive bipolar world, into the multi-polar flexible need for rapid response across a myriad of threats.” NATO illustrated that it moved from a European territorial defense organization to an alliance that can promote global security.

Over the last eight years, ISAF gradually expanded its reach from Kabul to the entire country and shifted from rotating national commands to a stable NATO headquarters. The headquarters oversees a force that began as 5,000 and expanded to more than 130,000 from 48 countries. As NATO increased its operational tempo, military forces were assigned to the ISAF Joint Command (IJC), which undertakes military operations in Afghanistan. With additional surge forces that began to arrive in 2010, there was also a renewed effort to train, equip, field, and partner with Afghan forces. To bring unity of effort to various bilateral and multilateral training efforts, NATO activated the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan in November 2009.

When NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) was stood up, we saw that our mission was about teaming with Afghans to build a bright, dynamic future for a sovereign Afghanistan. With the lessons of the Soviet experience and previous international efforts as our guide, NTM-A adopted a new mindset that relies on teaming, transparency, and transition. The approach worked. The initial 30 NATO trainers grew to over 1,800 in less than two years; the first two countries were joined by 35 others (Montenegro and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are the latest). When combined with additional financial resources, the benefits of unity of command under the NATO flag were apparent in a growing and professionalizing Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police. While still developing enabling and support capabilities like human resources, logistics, and finance, the Afghan military and police are on track to assume country-wide lead security responsibility from ISAF by December 2014.

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan will continue to work with the international community to ensure the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police have the necessary capabilities to control its borders, provide security for its people, and respond to natural and man-made disasters. Doing so requires strategic patience and continued international commitment to ensure the international investment made in Afghanistan is enduring and self-sustaining. Through partnership much progress has been made, but much work remains.
The growing sense of pride, confidence, and professionalism emerging throughout the ranks is evident. Geographic transition that began in July and public confidence in the force are evidence of this. None of this would have been possible without NATO assuming responsibility for the training mission and providing unity of command to previously disconnected and disparate training efforts. As reaffirmed in NATO’s Strategic Concept, the Alliance “remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world.” This is prominently on display in Afghanistan on a daily basis.

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.