Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO in Afghanistan: An Enduring Commitment?

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO in Afghanistan: An Enduring Commitment?

Article excerpt

The status and role of NATO forces in Afghanistan has always been a contentious issue for all parties involved, for the U.S. and Afghan administrations (the main stakeholders in the state-building process), for other NATO member states, many of whom have openly questioned the rationale for engagement in such a distant and unconventional theatre, for Afghanistan's neighbours, seeking to secure their interests in the region, and last but not least, for Western and Afghan societies, which are undoubtedly paying the highest prices for such involvement in "grand politics." It is somewhat ironic therefore, that NATO, whose willingness to respond militarily after invoking Article V of the Washington Treaty was initially rejected by the U.S. administration as it was forming the anti-terrorist coalition in the aftermath of 9/11, has finally assumed the role of the main external security provider for the Afghan government and society and responsibility for the successful democratic transformation of the country.

For the past nine years (NATO took responsibility for the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force in August 2003,)1 the Alliance has carried out myriad herculean tasks in the country, including support of the Afghan government in consolidating power in all provinces of the country, contributing to military and civilian reconstruction, assisting the U.S. (the main sponsor of Security Sector Reform) in creating the Afghan National Security Forces (the ANSF) etc. As has been alluded, NATO's activities have never been trouble-free, not only because of the conditions on the ground but also as a result of NATO being more a "follower" than a "decision-maker" with regard to Afghan strategy (or rather, strategies), and as such, NATO can be seen to be beholden to certain solutions that were conceived outside the Alliance. To what extent NATO has achieved its main goal of creating a stable environment for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, remains open to question. Whilst its mission is yet to be completed, one has to bear in mind that the Alliance has as yet, only incidentally exerted significant influence over those external conditions which, directly, or indirectly, influenced the situation on the ground. Conflicting priorities and agendas (for example, the U.S.'s long-standing emphasis on eliminating Al-Qaida and remnants of the Taliban regime over state-building), the attitude of the Pakistani political and military establishment towards the counter-insurgency efforts of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan, a lack of critical support from other stakeholders (the UN, the European Union etc.) as well as persistent donor reluctance to support reforms, have clearly limited the possibilities of achieving spectacular success in the areas that the ISAF was specifically mandated for.

In this article, the general concept of the North Atlantic Alliance's engagement in Afghanistan and its evolution within the context of external and internal premises will be outlined as well as the effectiveness of this almost decade-long effort. The upcoming NATO summit in Chicago (May 2012) creates the perfect context for such a review. First of all, one can expect an in-depth assessment of the political and military approach towards Afghanistan which has been implemented since 2009. In the military dimension, the so-called "McChrystal strategy" assumed a two-track approach: a temporary "surge" of ISAF forces (mostly American) and an intensification of combat with the aim of finally eliminating Al-Qaida remnants as well as a weakening in the position of the Taliban in their traditional strongholds (Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan); and in addition, increased momentum for Security Sector Reform efforts (both in terms of boosting the size of the ANSF and enhancing their ability to operate autonomously of allied combat and logistical support).

Likewise, the Chicago debate must lead the way to the adoption of a final decision concerning the future engagement and support of NATO countries in Afghanistan as was envisaged in the Declaration on Enduring Partnership which was adopted in Lisbon in 2011. …

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