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NATO Goes Soft in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.