NATO Cannot Be Rehabilitated

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

More than five months ago on the heels of a number of bureaucratic entanglements that had slowed the progress of recently deployed Marines in Afghanistan, The Captain’s Journal asked the question Can NATO Be Rehabilitated? We also predicted that in order to give Petraeus latitude to implement counterinsurgency doctrine, we would have to bring U.S. forces out from under the command of NATO, or possibly place a U.S. General in charge of NATO forces. This has come to pass as we predicted.

We have also noted that the campaign in Afghanistan relies heavily on special forces and raids against mid-level Taliban commanders rather than contact with the population and ensuring security. In other words, it is being treated as a counter-terrorism campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign. Australian infantry is not even allowed to engage in kinetic operations, and must sign documentation concerning their deployment that they have not provoked such fire fights.

Rather than making contact with the population, many NATO troops have been kept on Forward Operating Bases (FOBs); rather than finding and killing the enemy, NATO has placed emphasis on reconstruction efforts, reconstruction that goes unused in many cases because there is no security. Rather than conducting dismounted patrols, many troops have been confined to vehicles, obviously increasing the risk from IEDs.

There are noises that NATO countries are getting serious about the campaign.

The Berlin government has extended the mandate of Germany’s military mission in Afghanistan for 14 months and agreed to deploy an extra 1,000 troops there.

The decision would keep German troops in Afghanistan until December 2009, boosting their number to 4,500.

The move requires approval by the lower house of parliament, which was due to debate the issue later on Tuesday.

Germany is currently the third biggest contributor to the 47,000 Nato-led force in Afghanistan.

Sounds like a positive step, no? Well, not so fast. Forget force projection by infantry. Germany won’t even use its special forces for kinetic operations.

Germany has admitted its Special Forces have spent three years in Afghanistan without doing a single mission, and are now going to be withdrawn.

More than 100 soldiers from the elite Kommando Spezialkrafte regiment, or KSK, are set to leave the war-torn country after their foreign minister revealed they had never left their bases on an operation.

The KSK troops were originally sent to Afghanistan to lead counter-terrorist operations.

But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, admitted they had not been deployed “a single time” in the last three years, despite a desperate shortage of Special Forces units in the country.

Troops from Britain’s Special Boat Service and the SAS work round the clock, across Afghanistan, alongside US navy Seals and Delta Force, to target terrorists, arrest drug lords and rescue hostages.

The KSK were part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which spearheads the international hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Senior military officials last night blasted the KSK commanders for keeping the troops in camp. One western military official accused Germany of “sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the world fights”.

He said: “It’s just unbelievable to think there have been 100 highly-trained troops sitting doing nothing for three years, while everyone else has worked their socks off. It’s no good sending troops if they don’t do anything. They might as well have stayed at home.”

Another source said: “It’s ludicrous that they would be here and not contributing.”

Berlin is under almost constant pressure from the rest of Nato to increase its troop contribution and scrap special national caveats which prevent German troops deploying to volatile parts of the country, like Helmand. Last year it emerged that Norwegian troops, fighting alongside their German allies, were forced to abandon a battle at tea-time because German pilots refused to fly emergency medical helicopters in the dark.

Mr Steinmeier claimed the KSK’s inactivity as an excuse to withdraw the Commandos from Afghanistan.

He said: “That’s why the KSK element should be taken out of the OEF mandate.”

Berlin was set to renew the KSK mission for another year in November, but they are now expected to fly home instead.

A spokesman for Operation Enduring Freedom said: “We don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan.”

But, he added: “Common sense says if they weren’t being used, they won’t be missed.”

The KSK revelations came as Nato’s leading commanders were renewing their calls for more troops.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, agreed to send an extra 1,000 troops to Afghanistan this week, but they will be confined to the north of the country which is relatively safe.

Most of Germany’s troops are based in Mazar-e Sharif, at an airbase complete with a series of bars and a nightclub. Nato wants Germany to do more in Afghanistan, but the mission is deeply unpopular with German voters.

Mr Steinmeier told Der Spiegel newspaper: “You cannot just keep piling elements on without taking a critical look at our current responsibilities.”

Our question five months ago was prescient. There are individual countries who are assisting in Afghanistan, but as an organization, our judgment is that NATO cannot be rehabilitated. This is why, for all of his bluster about returning America to a position of respect across the globe, Barack Obama’s demand that NATO fulfill an increased role in Afghanistan is a doomed strategy. More troops to sit on FOBs and provide force protection for themselves (while Marines and British forces take the brunt of the battle in the South) won’t help the campaign.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,NATO and was published October 9th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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