5 years, 10 months ago
In spite of the success the U.S. Marines have had in the Helmand Province (and the example that this has provided to NATO), the balance of NATO forces in Afghanistan are focused primarily on force protection, and in order to procure that protection, some shady deals have been struck. Spiegel recently interviewed Hamid Karzai, and while the entire piece is worth studying, one exchange stands out as descriptive of the campaign thus far. NATO forces are buying protection from criminals and warlords.
SPIEGEL: Dirty deals are still necessary for the stability of Afghanistan?
Karzai: Absolutely necessary, because we lack the power to solve these problems in other ways. What do you want? War? Let me give you an example. We wanted to arrest a really terrible warlord, but we couldn’t do it because he is being protected by a particular country. We found out that he was being paid $30,000 a month to stay on his good side. They even used his soldiers as guards …
SPIEGEL: That sounds like the story of Commander Nasir Mohammed in Badakhshan, a province where German soldiers are based.
Karzai: I don’t want to name the country because it will hurt a close friend and ally. But there are also many other countries who contract the Afghan militias and their leaders. So I can only work where I can act, and I must always calculate what will happen before doing anything.
Karzai has just described an incredibly weak government, along with an incredibly weak campaign if the Germans are paying criminals $30,000 per month for protection. In this case, the Germans don’t have the force (or rules of engagement) necessary to accomplish force protection, and thus they are buying it.
Another extreme example comes from the Norwegians.
The Norwegian base at Meymaneh is less secure than similar bases belonging to other ISAF forces. “The officers are angry, and I can see why,” says Vice Admiral Jan Reksten, in charge of the Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan.
Faryab province in northwestern Afghanistan has become increasingly restless in recent years. Taliban strength has been growing and there has been fighting in Meymaneh both last fall and in May this year.
Both the military and political heads of the armed forces accept that the base needs strengthening. When the Norwegian force was asked what it needed to defend itself, it asked for 120 troops and long-range weapons. A mobile reaction force was also ordered, so that the allied garrisons in the area could assist each other if any of them came under heavy attack.
Initially they were offered 100 men and long-range weapons. This was pared down to what was termed an absolute minimum of 76, still including mortars.
The most recent tally has fallen to 46 soldiers, with no long-range arms. These will instead be put into storage in Mazar-e-Sharif. This is the sequence of events which has caused tempers to fray.
The base at Meymaneh is a so-called Provincial Reconstruction Team base that provides security and helps with reconstruction in their local area. There are 30 such bases in Afghanistan. The United States alone has 12.
According to defense chief Sverre Diesen and army chief Robert Mood, Meymaneh will in fact be strengthened by the arrival of the arrival of more than 40 troops. The base will house a total of 200 Norwegians, of which 60 are deployed with the helicopter ambulance team currently stationed there. A few Latvian soldiers are also on the base.
“The Swedes, Germans and everyone else have robust rapid response forces. Mortars and armoured assault vehicles are almost always included,” says Col. Ivar Halset, who takes over as commander in Meymaneh in July.
“If we come under the sort of attack we experienced in May, we would no longer have weapons superiority over the Taliban,” adds Halset.
“The nearest reinforcements are an eight hour drive from Meymaneh and a further four to five hours from the areas where trouble is most likely occur,” he concludes.
“When the Norwegian force was asked what it needed to defend itself …” says it all. The Norwegians are preoccupied with force protection, and as well they should be. They lack even the basic weapons necessary to do the job, and are so far away from reinforcements (eight hours) and high trouble locations (four hours) that consideration of a combat outpost or counterinsurgency operations is out of the question.
The Australians also admit that more forces are needed.
Defence boss Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston has predicted foreign forces will be in Afghanistan for more than 10 years and thousands more troops are needed there.
He told a Senate Committee yesterday the Australian troops in Oruzgan province had Taliban insurgents on the back foot.
But he admitted they were unable to “hold the ground”.
“We can prevail in small areas but not across the whole province,” he said.
“Large tracts of the province are controlled by the Taliban.
“The ability to hold territory and influence what is happening – that’s the issue. There is a long, long way to go.”
Air Chief Marshal Houston’s sober assessment was backed by Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
And then he just as quickly states that not another Australian troop will be committed to the campaign. Upon his recent retirement, General McNeill made some important observations.
General McNeill’s Isaf control began in February last year. At that time, the force was comprised of 33,000 NATO troops. Since then, 20,000 more have been added, but still more are needed, he said.
“This is an under-resourced war and it needs more manoeuvre units, it needs more flying machines, it needs more intelligence, surveillance and recognisance apparatus”, the general stated.
“I’m not just focused on the US sector, I’m talking about across the country.”
But the example has been given to us. Ask the Marines in the Helmand Province if they wish to give $30,000 a month to organized crime as protection money. On second thought, we know the answer to that question before we ask, and hence, we know what needs to be done to win the campaign. It’s just a matter of doing it.