So, how did we get here?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has had a terrible start to 2006. Early this year the alliance was due to begin expanding its Afghanistan security assistance mission into the country's south. But as violence increased across the country in recent weeks, the Dutch parliament began debating whether to vote against the deployment of 1,200 Dutch troops to the Nato mission, throwing the alliance's operational plan into disarray. Having staked their credibility on the success of the Afghanistan mission, Nato diplomats are now working to soothe Dutch concerns and avert a potential fiasco.Sigh. My friends the Dutch. Where is the Dutch government getting its military advice?
Divisions within Nato over the "war on terror" burst into the open when the commander of Dutch forces launched an extraordinary public attack on the record of the American military in Afghanistan. Gen Dick Berlijn said yesterday that four years of "unnecessarily harsh" American combat operations had brought "little or no" benefit to the restive south of the country, other than the toppling of the Taliban.Oh goodness. I might have to take this para by para. "Unnecessarily harsh?" This guy has spent way too much time on staff duty and not enough time in the field. Does he have any understanding of how the Pashtuns fight? Their history?
Holland's coalition government and parliament are locked in a bitter debate over whether to send 1,200 Dutch troops to join a new Nato mission of 6,000 troops in southern Afghanistan.Ah ha. There it is. Being nice and non-confrontational with the Serbs in Srebrenica went so well, I guess you want to do that wholesale in AF?
With Dutch memories of their military's disastrous involvement in the former Yugoslav conflict still raw, the row has threatened to topple the government.
Gen Berlijn, the chief of the Netherlands defence staff, backed the sending of Dutch troops, saying they would bring sensitive peace-keeping skills to the operation. But in the same interview with the Dutch magazine Elsevier, he expressed grave concerns about the exact relationship on the ground between peacekeeping Nato forces and American combat forces engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)."Sensitive" only works well if you have tanks and heavy weapons 5-minutes away and are willing to use them.
Dutch politicians have expressed fears that peacekeeping troops will come under attack from insurgents motivated by their loathing of American forces. The general did not dismiss such concerns outright, saying: "If it is necessary to hunt terrorists in an area, then the OEF commander will have to discuss this extremely carefully with the Nato commander.First of all, they hate you because you are an infidel in their country. They don't care what flag you have. It is always necessary to hunt terrorists, and the only discussion that should take place among serious military leaders is, "There they are. Should we kill them with ground or air?" Gen. Berlijn, I don't know what military theory/history you are reading given your limited combat experience, but you are reading the wrong books.
"There must not be a situation in which we work on reconstruction one day and the bulldozers of the OEF flatten everything again the next."The reason this situation even exists is the fact that NATO cannot grasp the need to have all military under a unitary Chain of Command. Fractured CoC only leads to failure. Even if everyone is from the same country. We learned that the hard way in Iraq (read No True Glory for the details). This guy should not be at the head of a serious military. Yes, I understand the ISAF/OEF split has been quasi-working for a couple of years, but now is the time to leave the JV and get ready for Varsity Football. Either that, or go back to the soccer team.
... just as Nato prepares to begin its most difficult task yet in Afghanistan - taking over security operations from US forces in the still-unsettled south - that new-found faith in Europe is being tested. For nearly a year, Nato planners have relied on British, Dutch and Canadian forces to make up the core of 6,000 troops there.Caveats are a nice word for saying, "We will send troops, but they cannot leave their base or be used to kill any bad guys. If you are attacked outside the base, or a night, we have to call home for permission to wipe our behinds."
The three countries were committed to hard work in a potentially violent area and, unlike other Nato allies, they did not hamper their soldiers' rules of engagement with restrictive "caveats" that prevented them performing crucial missions.
But the Netherlands has thrown a spanner in the works. .., it is unclear whether the Dutch parliament will approve it early next month. ... But it also could delay the deployment scheduled for mid-year, leading to a domino effect as Nato looks for other countries to fill the gap.Europe is tapped out. Either for lack of personnel or will, they are having their bluff called. They need to do this, or it will generations before they will ever be looked at for more than auxiliaries. This is serious business.
The US has already said it will reduce its forces by 2,500 in March. due to Nato deployment. "[If] parliament decides the Netherlands won't take part . . . then we'll look for another ally," Kurt Volker, of the US State Department's European bureau, said this week. "It would delay the ability to implement this but it's a Nato mission and we're determined to see it succeed."
Just who would fill the gap is unclear and a western defence official said Nato leaders had intentionally not discussed potential replacements in order to turn up the heat on the Dutch.
Asked this week whether the UK would be able to fill in for the Dutch, Martin Howard, head of operational policy at the defence ministry, said: "I would have thought we would find it quite difficult."
But just at the moment that Nato's 26 member states are finally facing up to their military obligations, the alliance faces a new crisis over the disinclination of a number of European states to put their soldiers in harm's way. This week's announcement that Nato's planned deployment to southern Afghanistan was to be delayed by several months was blamed on the Dutch government, which has had second thoughts about placing its soldiers' lives in jeopardy.We better do this right, or we will loose AF because we wanted to think we had real allies.
But at least the Dutch are prepared to consider the possibility, which is more than can be said for Europe's main military powers - with the notable exception of Britain. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have all deployed troops in Afghanistan, but on the strict understanding that they be stationed in parts of the country - such as the relatively pacified north - where their soldiers' lives will not be imperilled.
Such blatant failures of will are most unwelcome at a time when the threat to Western security is greater than ever. Quite apart from the danger posed by al-Qa'eda, the West could soon find itself obliged to take action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons arsenal. And if Nato is to prevail over the menace posed by militant Islam, it must show resolve, not weakness.