Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Submission by Daniel Korski, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations


  After eight years of war and the biggest NATO operation in history, Afghanistan remains in the throes of insurgency and President Hamid Karzai's government is perilously weak. There is little prospect of a swift victory; even the most optimistic assessments point to the necessity of a long-term international presence. In Helmand, the military and the civilian efforts have improved since the original UK deployment in 2006. Despite matters remaining fragile, Afghanistan is not yet lost. Working with the Afghan authorities, Europe governments can help turn the tide. Britain has a special role in bridging U.S demands and European capabilities.

To help the U.S the British government first needs to ask its European allies to do what is feasible, not to echo unrealistic demands that European governments will not, cannot, and probably should not fulfill. This will require a much greater UK understanding of what European allies are already doing—and knowledge of what they are able to offer. It will also require a change in tone. Though no Cabinet ministers publicly chastise their European allies for their (lack of) commitment, as U.S Defence Secretary Robert Gates did in the run-up to NATO's Bucharest Summit, the tone and attitude of senior British officials is, at times, unhelpful.

It may also require a much longer-term investment in helping European governments build the necessary capabilities. That may sound like too long-term a prospect, but many European governments do not have the capacity to increase even their civilian contribution (to compensate for any lacking military commitment). British policy therefore needs to take in initiatives to build capacity in European administrations eg to recruit, train and deploy police officers and civilians. Offering to convert part of the UK Defence Academy into a training facility for all Europeans civilians deploying to Kabul may be an option.

  Another key issue is to look at ways to ensure that the European troops who form Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams, or OMLTs (known as "omelets"), which are used to stand-up the Afghan forces, are provided the best pre-deployment training possible. To this end, the British government should lobby for a standing NATO Military Advisory Force, which can improve European capabilities to train and support the Afghan security forces.

  Finally, there is no avoiding the diplomatic linkages between various policy issues. If the British government wants European allies to do more in areas they consider important, then it may have to give in other areas. Nobody may want to admit the linkages outright, but they are a feature of international politics. A key linkage would be helping to develop, and support, a more European approach to Pakistan.


  Before dealing with the broader European effort, it is important to zoom in on the British strategy, particularly in Helmand province. The British government is one of the largest donors and has been a key ally of the U.S in developing and supporting the broad-based, post-2001 state-building project. But it is in Helmand province the British government has, since spring 2006, invested most resources and political capital. In April 2006, the British government sent a brigade into Helmand province. Initially, the deployment was hailed as an important improvement on the small US-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the main city of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, which only had a limited capacity and a few hundred soldiers.

But as has been widely documented, despite a joined-up, inter-departmental planning process, once British forces were deployed, splits emerged between the military and the FCO and DfiD (as well as between civilian departments). Instead of building stability in Lashkar Gah and slowly expand outwards, the British forces—led by 16 commando brigade—deviated from this and established the so-called platoon houses in district centres throughout the province. This stretched British resources, and allowed large insurgent forces to surround and isolate the British outposts. At the same time, the strategy did not take into account the time it took for the FCO and DfiD to staff up the UK Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) let alone before all government departments, including the MoD, realised the nature of the fight. The town of Musa Qula fell to the Taliban, and NATO forces came close to losing Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led offensive in September 2006 in neighbouring Kandahar province.

  Gradually, however, matters have improved. In October 2006, 3 CDO Bde deployed two battlegroups and all the required supporting arms. In December 2007, 4,000 British, Afghan, and American forces cleared Musa Quala town of Taliban forces thanks in part to the defection of Mullah Abdul Salam, a veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance. Among other things, the PRT was upgraded to include a "two-star level" senior civilian representative placed above the "one-star level" military commander of Task Force Helmand. All operations now needed to have a specific long-term objective in support of the civilian and political development goals.

  But matters remain fragile and the Taliban remain strong throughout the province. Much rests on Abdul Salam, who was appointed district commissioner of Musa Qala and the newly appointed governor. NATO and Afghan troops repulsed a Taliban attack in Lashkar Gah in October last year, and many analysts believe the town will fall (even if just for a few days) at some point in 2009. It will certainly be difficult to hold presidential elections in large parts of the province.

  The problems of integrating economic reconstruction with military operations have decreased with every update of the so-called Helmand Road Map, the main UK plan. More civilians are now working in the PRT and civil-military structures have improved. Moreover, a new governor has been appointed and more of the economic assistance is now targeted against the insurgency. Yet the security situation is such that it is difficult for civilians to move around the province and many of the non-security projects have become less relevant. As counter-insurgency expert Peter Dahl Truelsen writes: "The local population is still waiting to see which is the stronger and more determined party—the insurgents or the counterinsurgents".[159] In the meantime, corruption and opium production are flourishing; local militias are still armed; and the legitimacy of the central and local administration is low.


  The European effort in Afghanistan has been multi-faceted, covering development aid, military contributions and political reporting, with the EU represented in Kabul by a Special Representative, the EU Commission delegation, the EUPOL mission, and Embassies of member states. Short-term EU missions have also observed the Afghan parliamentary and presidential elections.

The EU Commission and member states together have contributed a third of Afghanistan's total reconstruction assistance. Of the total pledged at the Tokyo conference, €1 billion was pledged by the European Commission over five years—averaging some €200 million per year. In 2002, the EC exceeded its Tokyo pledge, providing €280 million to help Afghanistan meet its reconstruction and humanitarian needs. In the years since 2002, the EC continued to commit funding of about €200 million per year and is on track for realising its original €1 billion pledge by the end of 2006. The EC—which has been present in Afghanistan since the mid 1980s, with an office in Peshawar, in western Pakistan—has made available a package of development aid worth €610 million for the period 2007-10. It focuses on three key priority areas: reform of the justice sector; rural development including alternatives to poppy production; and health.

  However, the European offer is uneven and lacks the coordination and prioritisation needed to combine the different strands into a coherent whole. The EU and European nations have in fact added to the problem of a lack of international coherence by pursuing policies independently of each other, most damagingly in the overlapping areas of policing, justice and counter-narcotics.

  The European military contribution, both to the UN-mandated and NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led Coalition Forces, has been varied. European troops now account for more than half of ISAF's total deployment. And many EU governments have bulked-up their contribution to ISAF in the past years, with the last six months seeing a steep increase in contributions.

  European states are also in command of 11 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) across the country. But while the UK, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Denmark and Estonia have been willing to commit war-fighting forces deployed to the South and East of Afghanistan, Germany remains constrained by the more limited reconstruction mandate afforded its troops by the Bundestag, and Spain's 700 troops can only perform limited tasks. Finland, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Ireland and Luxembourg have seen their troop contribution to ISAF drop. And few countries have deployed a large part of their forces.

  The Afghan mission is also increasingly unpopular among the European public. When ten French soldiers were killed outside Kabul last summer, it shocked France and led to the first real debate about the country's involvement in Afghanistan—and loud calls for a quick withdrawal. The same kinds of sentiments are now prevalent in Germany, but also in Britain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Opinion polls from all these countries show greater numbers of people in favour of a pull-out, and a clear downward trend over the last couple of years. In 2007, 42% of Britons, 49% Germans and 51% of Frenchman wanted NATO to withdraw from Afghanistan. Today, the figures are 68, 55 and 62% respectively.

  The EU's police mission is seen as the EU's weakest mission. It did not have a lot to work with as even General Hans-Christoph Ammon, head of Germany's special forces, admitted when he called his own country's efforts to train the Afghan police "a miserable failure".[160] Upon taking over, EUPOL's new head, Klai Vittrup, called the assignment "his toughest job yet". Two years after EUPOL's establishment, it has struggled to attract staff, deploy into the provinces or make any discernable difference to policing standards. No less than fourteen calls for contributions have gone on deaf ears. Many European governments—though keen to emphasize the need for non-military instruments—have not deployed any staff into the UN mission or EUPOL. Malta, Ireland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Portugal, Greece, Latvia, Austria have no staff in EUPOL. Others, like France, Estonia and Sweden have only one person seconded to the mission.

  Though EC's aid to Afghanistan is sizeable, year-by-year since 2004 it is practically the same as EC aid to Iraq, a country that has plenty of resources, and where U.S expenditure is 3.8 times higher than in Afghanistan, totalling $653.1 billion over six fiscal years.[161]


  Reports often compare the amount of funding spent by the international community as a whole in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban to that spent in previous post-conflict missions, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and East Timor. But looking at EC expenditure alone tells a similar tale of underinvestment. Though Afghanistan is poorer and more populous than both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, on average all three countries received almost the same in external post-conflict EC assistance.


  European governments can do a lot more. Instead of lamenting the uneven burden-sharing practice mega-phone diplomacy or ask European allies for things they will never deliver—like German troops in Helmand—the British government should develop a keen idea of what to ask for.

Improving PRTs

First, the need is to take the PRT model and work out how European countries can help expand its scale, especially in the south and east. In Kabul, the PRT Executive Steering Committee should be bulked-up, with the EU committing to provide pre-trained staff for its management. This should include a pool of civilian experts—numbering at least 100—to be deployed into all PRTs for short and long-term assignments as well as the necessary policy support (eg database of funding, data about government programmes, and "best practice" material).

The EU should tailor and run pre-deployment for all civilians to be deployed into PRTs—and, over time, for all Europeans, including NGOs, who are about to be deployed to the theatre. The EU should set-up an evaluation process, which can feed lessons into all PRTs on an on-going basis. The European Commission must be partners in the effort, to ensure the full integration of the development dimension, and the full use of available budgets. Close consultation with NATO, UNAMA and the U.S is essential.

Securing Kabul

  Second, the EU should offer to take a special role in the reconstruction of Kabul. There has been a sharp deterioration of security in Kabul and the belt of towns surrounding it. The Taliban know that instability in the capital has an outsized psychological impact on the resolve of the country and the international community. The Taliban may not be about to over-run Kabul, but they are trying to create panic, and show that the government cannot control the land it sits on.

With the Afghan government having taken over responsibility for Kabul's security the city's further development will be a major test for President Kazai and NATO. Renewed support for Kabul's reconstruction is needed; the EU has experience in city reconstruction from its administration in Mostar, Bosnia. It should offer the Afghan government a cross-disciplinary team, led by an experienced European city administrator, to help adjust existing political, military and reconstruction plans for Kabul.

  With a two-year mandate, a Kabul C-PRT—Capital Reconstruction Team—would ensure that civilian development goes hand-in-hand with the security transition to the ANA from ISAF. If the method works in Kabul, it could even serve as a model for Afghanistan's other large cities like Kandahar or Jalalabad. Urgent work will be required to reach a timeframe on roles, size, locations and contributors. The Council Secretariat of the European Union—led by its civilian planning unit, the CPCC—should be tasked to form a working group with the European Commission and those member States who have significant experience of PRTs and military operations to date. Once the working group is established it should come up with recommendations on "C-RTs" and on how the EU could enhance the management of all the PRTs.

Enhance security

  Nothing can be achieved in Afghanistan unless the security situation improves. However, guaranteeing security cannot be an international task. The U.S and Europe are unlikely to deploy sufficient troops to achieve the doctrinally recommended 20:1,000 security force density ratio necessary for counter-insurgency operations. In the southern provinces alone this would require over 280,000 personnel, which is much more than the U.S and Europe could supply, even if the U.S draws down in Iraq. Therefore, the key is, to build operationally efficient Afghan forces.

The ability to build efficient Afghan forces will depend on improving the effectiveness of the NATO troops, particularly those in ISAF Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams, or OMLTs, whose role is to train and mentor their Afghan counterparts. The OMLTs suffer from a number of problems. The Afghan army is fielding units faster than NATO can supply OMLTs to train them. Few NATO countries have the manpower to supply more than one or two OMLTs. Fewer troops still arrive with the training required to make a success of a six-month tour. As it takes an average OMLT four to six months before they become effective, little time is left to leverage the skills learnt and the relationships created given that the military rotations are usually six months.

  To deal with these problems, European countries should offer up to 2000-person Military Advisory Force under NATO auspices. The force could consist of multinational forces committed, on a rotating basis, to a six months' period of joint training prior to the start of an operational stand-by period. Joint training would continue through-out the stand-by period. This would ensure that NATO has a highly flexible, standing OMLT-style capability and it will maximize the experiences of the trainers deployed to ISAF. In the first instance, soldiers who have served in OMLTs will be identified, offered train-the-trainers courses and committed to an alliance-wide database. They can then serve as a virtual force and be brought in to help tailor and deliver courses, act as support for those deployed as well as make up the force most experienced staff.

  To ensure the necessary standards of readiness, the summit should declare an intention to create a purpose-built Military Advisory Centre to gather training. The centre—which could be built on an existing training facility—would teach prospective advisors the tricks of the advising trade and language skills to be effective in-country.

  In addition, a European Police Capital Investment Fund should also be established, which would give the EUPOL head of mission access to funds for technical improvements either directly or through the Afghan budget, or the Law and Order Trust Fund (LOTFA). Resources should come from the European governments and the European Commission. Plans should also be put in place for a twenty-year support programme to the Kabul Police Academy and its regional equivalents in Mazar-e Sharif, twining the institution with a number of European academies, like CENTREX, so that a regular rotation of trainers and teachers can be assured. Finally, plans ought to be drawn-up for the EU to take over the funding and management of the U.S police programmes in the event that European governments withdraw soldiers from ISAF.


  European governments should help the Afghan authorities to reach a sustainable political settlement, which can provide the various levels of the Afghan government with the necessary legitimacy to draw people away from the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban have not publicly participated in talks and haven't shown any signs they are serious about negotiating, but the availability of talks as a political solution should be considered as means to obtaining a modicum of stability.

The looseness of the Taliban organization makes the insurgency vulnerable to division through a combination of pressure and inducements. To exploit this division positively, it requires a combination of military pressure and hope for a better life within Afghanistan. In this, the EU has advantages that the U.S will never have; several Taliban commanders have pronounced themselves willing to see the EU play a role as an intermediary.

  At the lowest levels, the Afghan Government's reconciliation program (PTS) is able to appeal to non-ideological insurgents—such as farm-boys and foot-soldiers—who are tired of the fight and ready to return to a more peaceful daily life. But the programme has not been well-funded, well-led or imbued with the necessary support. The EU Special Representative should take the lead, on behalf of European governments, to develop a comprehensive plan to assist the re-launch of the PST process. Support must include a realistic appraisal, monitoring and follow-up mechanisms to ensure that resources go to bona fide insurgents and that they are enabled to live peacefully.

  A step above the farm-boys and foot-soldiers targeted by the PTS process are governor-led efforts designed, through social outreach and the delivery of services and development opportunities, to raise the Government credibility among tribes and communities who have tolerated or supported the Taliban.

  At the top level is an on-off effort initiated by President Karzai and supported by the Saudi government to reconcile with the most senior members of the Taliban leadership. In this, the EU should offer President Karzai help with the development of an unofficial dialogue process, to engage the insurgents and those influencing them. The process itself could be undertaken through a third-party or a mediator, such as Kofi Anan, Maarti Ahtisaari or Lakhdar Brahimi. Though it would not amount to formal negotiations, such a dialogue could be used to identify parts of the insurgency prepared to move to a suspension of violence; and identify a possible basis for cooperation and movement into the political arena.


  The Afghan-Pakistan border area remains among the greatest challenges to a stable, integrated region. The Canadians are working through the Group-of-Eight on an ambitious border strategy, which includes security, development, economic and other measures. The U.S and other donors are assisting Afghanistan and Pakistan to expand and regularize border crossing which will improve security, cut down on smuggling and increase tax revenues. European governments should offer to take on the non-military aspects of the Canadian-sponsored plan for the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

Then the EU needs to facilitate a broader set of regional confidence building measures. To undertake the high-level diplomacy, the EU should appoint a full-time EU Envoy who can work with a U.S counterpart, much like Cyrus Vance and David Owen collaborated in the Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The EU should also consider ways to create an institutionalized "hot line" between New Delhi, Islamabad and Kabul to help them share information on threats and activities. This "hot line" will provide the region's leaders with a focal point where they could call to get accurate information or relay their security concerns.


  Europe cannot alter the coalition strategy alone, but neither can Britain. Coordinated European response to a new U.S administration's request for more support is far better than the "each-one-for-himself" policy, which is usually practiced. Working together, European governments can act as a powerful advocate for a better and more coordinated international approach. The U.S rightly argues that more troops are needed to dominate the terrain, and lambasts European allies for their failure to step up their effort. European countries are right to criticise the current U.S military strategy and to fear that an increase in troop numbers might only lead to greater civilian casualties, alienating the local population. Both will have to change their approach. Yet European governments can do a lot more than they are currently doing—and it is incumbent upon the British government to find creative ways to maximize European allies' existing capabilities and to help them do more.

26 January 2009

159   Peter Dahl Thruelsen, "Counterinsurgency and a Comprehensive Approach: Helmand Province, Afghanistan", Small Wars Journal. Back

160   "German general breaks silence on Afghanistan", Judy Dempsey, IHT, November 30, 2008. Back

161   Amy Belasco, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 Congressional Research Service, RL33110, Updated July 14, 2008, pp 16 and 19. Back

162   The figures were taken from: European Commission State of Play 30 June 2008: Major Milestones towards reconstruction and Peace Building in Afghanistan:
European Commission State of Play 31 July 2008, republic of Iraq: 

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