NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and senior American officials have sought for months to allay European fears about an “Americanization” of the mission in Afghanistan. Today, however, it became all but a fait accompli.
Andrew Gray sets the stage for Reuters:
As the United States pours troops into Afghanistan and boosts its role in the NATO force’s command structure, Washington is trying to reassure its allies that it still wants the war to be a joint effort. U.S. officials say they want to stick with NATO in Afghanistan for political and practical reasons, even though waging war as part of the alliance brings frustrations such as limits on the use of different nations’ forces.
In an effort to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban, Washington is deploying more than 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this year to reach a total of 68,000 by autumn — a presence about twice as large as all other NATO members combined.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has been blunt in his criticism of NATO nations for not committing more troops to Afghanistan, was keen to strike an upbeat note after a meeting of alliance defence ministers in Brussels on Friday. “I would not minimize the importance of 32,000 NATO and partnering troops in Afghanistan and the role that they and their civilians and their development people are playing in virtually every part of the country,” he said.
Today, however, the pretense that the other Allies are playing more than a support role ended in all but words. Gray’s colleague David Brunnstrom explains:
NATO on Friday backed a U.S. shake-up of military command in Afghanistan, as well as plans to step up training of Afghan forces, and Washington said it saw the chance of turning the tide in the war within a year.
The United States has named U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal to overall command of U.S., NATO and allies forces in Afghanistan, with a deputy to run day-to-day military operations and another to oversee training. The structure draws heavily on U.S. experience in Iraq.
Lieutenant-General David Rodriguez, a former U.S. and NATO commander in eastern Afghanistan who now serves as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ right-hand military man, will effectively run day-to-day war operations.
This will leave McChrystal, a workaholic veteran of the secretive world of special operations who is currently director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, to focus on strategy and other tasks such as liaising with Afghan and NATO leaders and pushing forward the training of Afghan security forces.
Gates and others are continuing to pay lip service to the idea that Afghanistan is still a NATO operation. But the fact of the matter is that most of the other Allies have but a token presence and others have so many “caveats” on how their forces may be used that they’re far all intents and purposes tourists. The Brits and Canadians, who have contributed heavily to the effort for years, are scaling back. Indeed, the only non-U.S. country that’s significantly increasing its presence in Afghanistan is Australia — which is not a NATO member!
Interestingly, the rubber stamping of the U.S. command restructuring plan in Afghanistan took place on the same day that NATO announced a plan to cut its 14,000 troop presence in Kosovo to 10,000 on the way to a near-total withdrawal in two years. While the United States was a key player in the early days of that conflict, it has for many years been a European effort. The difference, though, is that no one pretends otherwise.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.