RUSI JOURNAL: Commander of ISAF offers a view from the ground in Afghanistan

‘The NATO mission in Afghanistan requires a full commitment by those with the capabilities and capacity to fight an elusive enemy in a very challenging terrain... Regrettably, ISAF continues to lack sufficient forces and enabling capabilities in several key areas’, according to General David D. McKiernan, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

McKiernan Karzai

Writing exclusively in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), General McKiernan outlines ‘clear signs of progress in Helmand Province and other regions in Afghanistan’ and that there are ‘several reasons to be optimistic’, but equally warns ‘while the uplift in US forces in 2009 will partially mitigate some of the shortfalls, it is imperative that all NATO nations strongly consider how they can help us [ISAF] to fill the manning and capability shortfalls.’

The article, ‘Recommitment and Shared Interests: Progress and the Future of Afghan National Security’, argues that a recommitment by NATO to the goals of the mission, an acceptance of long-term responsibility, and a realisation that the solution requires more than just military means to secure the region will eventually achieve success.

Addressing the key role regional neighbours – notably Pakistan – can play in achieving a successful end-state for the mission in Afghanistan, General McKiernan calls for the insurgent sanctuaries across the southern and eastern borders to be tackled.

‘Pakistan’s military must take the lead in removing these extremists, as they are a growing existential threat to the Government of Pakistan as well as a threat to Afghanistan and the region. NATO and regional stakeholders simply cannot allow the Northwest Frontier Provinces (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan to remain areas of sanctuary for planning and training global terrorists.’

As the NATO mission in Afghanistan enters its eighth year, General McKiernan clearly states that the insurgents are not winning and the insurgency is not spreading, with violence largely concentrated in the south and east of the country – with 70 per cent of the violence in 2008 occurring in only 10 per cent of the districts.

General McKiernan warns the thousands of troops to be deployed to Afghanistan in the next few months may result in a sharp rise in violent activities, but this will not indicate a deteriorating security situation, and is likely to be followed by a dramatic drop in direct attacks - as experience shows - on both NATO and Afghan forces as they take the fight to the enemy. General McKiernan writes:

‘The arrival of new troops does not immediately translate into a decrease in insurgent activity. On the contrary, it is likely that another sizeable increase in kinetic activity will occur in 2009 as the fresh troops move into new areas to help protect the population and engage the enemy. This potential increase in kinetic activity plus the tendency of the insurgents to mount operations from amongst civilians may result in a regrettable increase in casualties, both for civilians and ISAF forces. These conditions do not indicate a deteriorating security situation, however.’

Acknowledging that ISAF forces involved in non-combat or otherwise limited roles make useful contributions to the overall mission, General McKiernan argues, ‘national caveats’ cede an enormous tactical advantage to the enemy and increase the danger for the very same forces the caveats are intended to protect.

‘For military commanders caveats inhibit the flexibility to employ scarce forces for maximum effectiveness, again ceding an advantage to the insurgents. Most importantly, when a nation employs caveats to limit the use of its forces, it sends an unambiguous signal to the Afghan government and people that its participation in the mission to help Afghanistan is half-hearted at best.’
 ‘NATO’s mission in Afghanistan remains a serious challenge – but not just for a few countries. While Afghans must rise to the challenge of rebuilding their nation, NATO and the international community must also rise to the challenge of helping them, not only to secure peace for Afghans, but for the region beyond.’
‘While the challenges are difficult and many, our hard won success will directly benefit Afghanistan and every one of the nations engaged in this noble mission,’ concludes General McKiernan.


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