Thursday, September 15, 2005

Allies in time of war: a sticky wicket

NATO. War. France. Germany. European Allies.

The theory of "proper warfighting" was thrown around a lot in last year’s election. There are some uncomfortable facts that go along with these things in the world of real conflict that we live in, and they point out the very real dangers when you reach a point you can’t/won’t go it alone.

Of course, less than reliable allies and difficult allied cooperation is nothing new. Just look at what (then) General Eisenhower went through in WWII.

Though you wouldn’t know it if you relied on news from Fox to CBS, our NATO and non-NATO allies have been with us to a great degree in Afghanistan for a very long time – not just peacekeeping ops, but real live fighting and dying - especially the SOF community. Kiwi to Danes, they have been there with us. Right now, NATO has responsibility for the northern 40% or so of AF, and the plan is to give them more. The further south and east you go in AF, the more danger there is. As we ask for our friends to take a larger stake and risk, the grey area many have been operating is shrinking.

In general, many of the weak-sisters like Spain balked already when the running got rough in Iraq, but Spain is still with us in AF. Different war, different reasons, different threat. Smaller powers love the big powers just so much. As per their history and local political realities, especially in Europe, we are going to see a lot of balking soon if we ask them to do more than the low level things they have been doing.

It is their right. Nations have to be concerned with what they see as their interests. Two articles have come out in the last 36 hrs that will let you peak under the curtain of the touchy world of coalition warfare; a knot of individual caveats, military capabilities, national will, and political posturing. Europeans balking at new Afghan role and Rumsfeld says NATO should take much bigger role in Afghanistan this year are a set of “must reads” for you POLMIL guys.

Let’s peak around.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday he expects the NATO alliance to expand its military contribution greatly in Afghanistan by summer and eventually take over the entire operation except for the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
More than 11,000 U.S. troops still are in Afghanistan, and NATO has about 8,000 providing security mainly in the capital, Kabul. NATO is not involved in combat operations in Afghanistan.
There's the rub. Combat operations. It is one thing to run a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), is an altogether different thing to head up into the mountains for sustained combat operations. That costs much more in both blood and treasure, and even if they had the treasure - few have the military to do anything on the level that we do. Not their fault altogether. Remember, a place like The Netherlands is roughly the size of New Jersey. It would be nice if they spent more as a % of GDP on their military so there was more "there there," (HARK-Canada, yes I said CANADA is doing that), but often you have to go to war with the allies you have, not the allies you wish you had.
NATO’s new secretary-general, the former Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he had heard “positive indications” from an unspecified number of defense ministers about offering troops or other support for additional civil-military aid teams designed to help get Afghanistan back on its feet.

Rumsfeld said “a number of countries stepped forward volunteering to lead or to participate” in such teams. He did not name any countries. Other officials said they may be Britain, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and non-NATO member Sweden.
Yes. Sweden is there. Good folks the Swedes. Remember, we owe them all that massed musketry Europeans were once so fond of.
Although Rumsfeld emphasized that the 20,000 American troops would continue to handle the counterinsurgency mission "for a time," he said NATO should consider deploying troops to Afghanistan's eastern border region, where much of the fighting is occurring.

He added, "Over time, it would be nice if NATO developed counterterrorism capabilities, which don't exist at the present time."

The Pentagon would like to draw down the presence of American troops, who have come under increasing attack from insurgents since the spring.

Germany's defense minister, Peter Struck, said on German radio and television that merging NATO's peacekeeping mission with the American combat operation would fundamentally change NATO's role in Afghanistan and "would make the situation for our soldiers doubly dangerous and worsen the current climate in Afghanistan."

Britain, too, is reluctant to merge the two missions. John Reid, the British defense secretary, supported a "synergy" in which the missions would complement each other. A British defense official said the real issue was "about NATO's long-term role and how it can adapt to the needs of the 21st century and the new threats."

France, which has special forces soldiers working alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that it opposed merging the two missions.

A French Defense Ministry official, who like the British official insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions, said "the two missions were completely different."

He added: "If you suddenly merge special forces or heavy counterterrorism units with stabilizing forces, which is NATO's role in Afghanistan, then you completely undermine NATO's role."

NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force in August 2003, the first time that the U.S.-led military alliance took on a mission away from its traditional base of Europe. Its primary role has been to maintain security, expand the authority of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan outside the capital of Kabul and assist in the reconstruction of the country.

Meanwhile, American troops have maintained a separate operation with 20,000 troops aimed mainly at defeating Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, chiefly in the south and east of the country.

That is where a lot of staff work remains to be done. Try to keep the PRT and major combat arms folks' missions separate enough. This is a political problem. As far are Germany goes, things one way or another will get better after the 18th.

AF is a success story, a fragile success story, but a success story as it is. When you look what the British went through with their multiple Anglo-Afghan Wars and the old Soviet Empire's experience....I think we are doing just fine.

Keep an eye on this over the summer. NATO is growing up in Afghanistan. Let’s see how it works out. Scott has a more sober view than mine, and is well worth reading.

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