New NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has wasted no time in signaling that the war in Afghanistan is the Alliance’s top priority, holding a teleconference on the conflict, reorganizing the mission’s command structure and calling for more EU help in his first days on the job.


This morning, the new Intermediate Joint Headquarters was formally approved to run day-to-day operations in Afghanistan.  It will be commanded by David Rodriguez, ISAF commander Stanley McCrystal’s deputy and West Point classmate.  As Slobodan Lekic reports for AP, “The decision is part of a reorganization of the U.S. and NATO command structure aimed at easing the pressure on McChrystal by removing his burden of the day-to-day operation of the war. It is similar to the model used in Iraq, where overall command of the multinational forces was under a four-star American general, while a three-star general ran daily operations.”

Rasmussen has cited al Qaeda attacks on European soil as proof that Europeans have a stake in the battle.  “I would urge Europeans to look closer into how to ensure a better balance in the alliance,” Steven Erlanger, reports for the NYT. “To that end we need increased European contributions.”  Further, “It is essential to keep this as a multilateral project, not least for political reasons,” he said, alluding gently to the American-British invasion of Iraq in the face of major allied discontent. “That is a lesson I learned from the past. Even if America can do it on its own, there are heavy arguments for doing it through a multilateral approach within a NATO context.”

ABC Australia‘s Stephanie Kennedy reports that Rasmussen “has called for more international help from the European Union” and notes that he couched the mission in terms beyond the Alliance itself: “Our mandate from the United Nations is clear; to help prevent Afghanistan from becoming again the grand central station of international terrorism.”  A BBC report echoes this, summarizing comments from Rasumussen that “NATO needed to expand its capacity to work with the European Union, United Nations and other civilian groups.”

The new secretary general also continued the recent line from American and, especially, UK leaders that the Afghan government and military must quickly pick up more of the burden.”We should develop a greater capacity within the Afghan National Army, and also within the Afghan National Police. The criteria of success will be to hand over gradually the responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves, province by province,” he told the BBC.

Rasmussen, who as a former head of government is the highest ranking official ever to fill the post of NATO Secretary General, is keenly aware of the difficulty he faces in trying to salvage something that can be credibly called “success” in Afghanistan.   He has clearly stated that the war remains the Alliance’s top priority. 

It remains to be seen, however, whether he’ll have any more luck than his predecessor at persuading the Europeans to contribute more at a time when they’re both war weary and financially strapped.  The Brits, easily the most stalwart of the Allies in Afghanistan, are near a breaking point, both politically and militarily, in their ability to sustain the fight.  The Germans have recently removed some of the infamous caveats that have constrained their usefulness but they’re unlikely to be able to do much more than that, especially after sustaining several casualties since the tempo upsurge that began last month.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

Related Experts: James Joyner