Saturday, March 01, 2008


Brothers in arms: a patrol consisting of a Dutch Fennek light armoured recce vehicle followed by an unrecognizable US troop carrier. The Fennek's size belies its weight, 10.4 tonnes combat-ready.

It is true that the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan is borne by the US Army. It is true that most NATO members have issued lots of caveats with regards to the deployment of their troops. It is true that some of those members who do fight - Canada, The Netherlands - face increasing pressure from leftist defeatists at home to end the deployment altogether. It is true that the Taleban are not defeated yet and that the end is not in sight yet. But...

But on the other hand, is there, after all, really reason to despair? Should not cautious optimism be the norm instead of anxious fretting? While the lackluster support among most NATO allies for Operation Enduring Freedom and the NATO/ISAF mission is worrisome, should one not be also elated that, after all, ALL NATO countries are present and contributing, be it to varying degrees? I live in a continent where right after the Wall came down, the leftist bozos who all the time had been part of the problem rather than of the solution started asking whether an organization like NATO was really necessary in the post communist era. Doubts about NATO's purpose in a time when a world-acclaimed author concluded that history had come to an end, afflicted even those sympathetic to an organization which had seen the light when Truman was president.

And yet here we are, eighteen long years later, and even though there is some coughing and hiccups and the occasional spasms, to state that NATO is dead couldn't be farther from the truth. ALL 26 NATO members have troops in AF. True, it's always the same who do the fighting: the US of course, Canada, the UK, The Netherlands, the Danes and Estonians. But service in the relatively quiet north and west isn't always a piece of cake either. Germany e.g., which its 3,210 troops responsible for Regional Command North and the third largest contributor, has had 29 fatalities thus far. While not comparable to the losses the US has suffered, not exactly a Club Med resort assignment either. The French, with their 1,515 personnel mainly around Kabul (currently under Opération Pamir XVII), are indeed highly constrained by caveats - but they do a prodigious job of demining dangerous areas. Less glorious perhaps, but just as necessary. They also do extensive patrols and there have been skirmishes with Taliban, check out this video. Then there is the fact that ISAF, as the very acronym implies - International Security and Assistance Force - is essentially not a fighting operation. It is an operation meant to help the democratically elected Afghan government establish its hold over the country, and support it wherever necessary with reconstruction. Combat brigades were never intended to be ISAF's spearheads - its PRT's (Provincial Reconstruction Teams, there are currently 25 of them) were. Norway's 495 troops are mainly deployed in the Meymaneh PRT in Faryab province, part of Spain's 740 personnel lead the Qala-i-Naw PRT in Badghis province. Hungary's 230 troops are responsible for the Pul-e Khumri PRT in Baghlan province. Slovenia's 70 troops of the 2nd motorised company, 20th motorised battalion (Celje) soldier on in Herat. And the Slovenian government donated 10,000 AK 47 automatic rifles to the ANA, the Afghan National Army. While all these operations miss the drama of the fierce combat in the south, they just as much contribute to the success of Enduring Freedom, America's mission in Afghanistan. So far, despite the setbacks and the caveats, it is not exaggerated to state that the US's NATO allies conducted an operation Enduring Support. At the recent Munich Conference, TIME's Michael Elliott had a conversation with retired US Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a novelist and essayist. The following is an exerpt from Elliott's article, A Call to Arms, in the February 25, TIME Europe issue:

... That is to say, there are, today, German troops in Afghanistan - 3,500 of them. They may not be in the most dangerous parts of the country or hunting down well-armed bands of Taliban guerrillas, but they are there. That, when you think about it, is astonishing. American author and columnist Ralph Peters (who is nobody's idea of a softie on defense matters) was at the Munich conference, and put things in perspective for me. When he was serving in the U.S. Army intelligence in Germany, Peters said, "We couldn't get the Germans to move 8km. Now we've got them moving 8,000 miles."

But honest is honest, some are doing more than their share. Canada has had 78 fatalities so far. The Netherlands, which is actually punching above its weight, 14 or so. The following video contains some footage of Dutch Commandos in Uruzgan province:

The shortage felt on the ground is such that this spring, an additional 3,200 US Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 7th Marine Regiment will be dispatched to southern Afghanistan. This shouldn't have to be necessary. Are there any signs that the burden will be carried more evenly in the near future? Luckily, there are. The French will send hundreds of fresh troops to eastern Afghanistan (check out this clip of French Chasseurs Alpins in the hills around Kabul). Under the staunch leadership of its PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark stays committed. And look out for Spain, which will have parliamentary elections come 9 March. With clear signs that the Spanish economy is tilting towards a recession - Zapatero's main concerns were rather legalizing gay marriage and gay adoption, talking with ETA terrorists and a red carpet treatment for 4 million illegal immigrants - the Spanish conservatives stand a good chance to win. This may then imply a bigger Spanish commitment. And as we have seen, even my country will send some additional troops plus four fighter bombers - finally with a mandate to bomb and strafe Taliban strongholds.

NATO may become a sextagenarian in a little over a year, but this old warhorse has by no means lost its teeth - quite the contrary.

Dutch F-16 taking off from Kandahar Airfield, on its way to kick some Taliban ass.


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