THE ROLE OF NATO IN AFGHANISTAN
226. In contrast to the 20,000 personnel at present
assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom, NATO's International Security
Assistance Force has been consistently under-resourced and overstretched.
In our January 2004 Report, we quoted the view of the UN Secretary-General
that "the international community must decide whether to
increase its level of involvement in Afghanistan or risk failure."
Since then, ISAF has expanded its reach beyond Kabul to take responsibility
for security in some Northern provinces, including leadership
of the PRT in Kunduz, and has developed plans gradually to establish
itself in further areas. However, and despite commitments entered
into at the recent NATO summit in Istanbul, ISAF has yet to receive
an increase in resources commensurate with these commitments.
This has damaged its credibility as much as it has restricted
its operational effectiveness.
227. Further, some of those forces which have
been deployed by NATO member states have made a contribution which
is more limited than their numbers, set out in the table below,
would suggest: for example, Germany's 1,900 troops are not permitted
to serve in a combat role, because of conditions imposed by the
Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, expressed his frustration
at NATO's failure to deliver its force commitments in a recent
address to the Royal United Services Institute in London:
Given the vast quantities of personnel and equipment
available to the Alliance overall, we have to ask ourselves why
we still cannot fill them. What is wrong with our system that
we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for
missions that we have committed to politically?
228. If Afghanistan is, as the Secretary of State
suggested to us, a test case for NATO's out-of-area policy,
it is a test which even NATO's Secretary-General appears to believe
the Alliance is dangerously close to failing.
|Breakdown of ISAF Personnel Strength by nations (as at 15 June 2004)
|Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia||48
229. Canadian General Richard Hillier, the commander of ISAF,
whom we met when we visited Kabul, was quoted in the Financial
Times of 14 June as telling a NATO meeting in Brussels that,
"If I had the assets to do more, we would be doing it. With
the assets I have now, I can't take on more areas."
General Hillier had the support of the Foreign Secretary in this.
Mr Straw told us:
You are right to highlight the dangers of NATO member states
failing to provide the necessary resources to expand the International
Security Assistance Force's presence across Afghanistan and the
associated dangers of conditions being attached, including in
the form of national caveats, to the use of those resources that
are committed. An expanded ISAF presence in Afghanistan is urgently
needed, not least to help the Afghan authorities provide the necessary
support for the forthcoming elections.
NATO's response came at the Istanbul summit, held on 28 June,
when Mr de Hoop Scheffer announced that,
Today, Allies approved a major expansion of NATO's role in
Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan authoritieswith the
resources to make it work. We made a commitment to help. We will
meet it. We will play our part.
230. All those who are concerned for Afghanistan's future
will welcome the NATO announcement. However, it is open to question
whether the announced intention to send about 1,000 additional
troops to Kabul to provide temporary security for the elections
and a further 700 to the North of the country support the work
of PRTs amounts to the "major expansion" described by
Mr de Hoop Scheffer, and it remains to be seen exactly how and
when NATO member states will deliver the commitment entered into
at Istanbul. President Karzai, for one, wants to see the extra
forces in place sooner rather than later.
Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy has said
that "It's up to ... NATO, but this is not sufficient, we
231. It is also apparent that the increases agreed at Istanbul
represent a compromise, not only in relation to what Afghanistan
had requested, but between the views of NATO member states. The
United Kingdom pressed hard for NATO to commit its Response Force
to Afghanistan to provide security for the elections. That proposal
was blocked by President Chirac, who objects to use of the NATO
Response Force in what France sees as a peacekeeping, or "sticking
This dispute may yet be resolved by redefining the mission in
terms which are acceptable to the French, but other difficulties
remain to be resolved. For example, there is so far no indication
of which member states will supply essential equipment such as
helicopters for the new PRTs. Until there are firm undertakings
by member states to commit specified resources to Afghanistan,
the Istanbul announcement remains little more than a statement
of intent. The apparent inability of the world's most powerful
military alliance to find a few helicopters when the need is so
great and urgent is deplorable.
232. We conclude that, welcome though the Istanbul declaration
of limited further support for Afghanistan is, fine communiqués
and ringing declarations are no substitute for delivery of the
forces and equipment which Afghanistan needs on the ground. We
agree with President Karzai that the need for more resources for
ISAF is urgent. There is a real danger if these resources are
not provided soon that Afghanistana fragile state in one
of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the worldcould
implode, with terrible consequences. We recommend that the Government
impress upon its NATO allies the need to deliver on their promises
to help Afghanistan before it is too late, both for the credibility
of the Alliance and, more importantly, for the people of Afghanistan.