EU reluctant to commit troops to Afghanistan without clear shift in strategy

Gerdy Rees
29 September 2009

European Union defence ministers have expressed reluctance to committing more troops to Afghanistan except as part of a limited plan training the Afghan military and police.

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The statements were made as EU defence ministers met yesterday in Göteborg, Sweden, for informal discussions on the EU's security and defence policy. Several ministers were reluctant to send front line troops, instead wishing to focus resources and efforts on training Afghan security forces. ‘We have a lot, about 2,000 men in Afghanistan. I think it's far more important in the long run that we have more Afghan military, and Afghan police,' Dutch defence minister Eimert Van Middelkopp told reporters.

The ToD Verdict: The statements come in anticipation of a possible call by the US for the EU to commit more front line troops to support the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan. The US is considering a request by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for up to 30,000 extra troops, without which the eight-year mission "will likely result in failure". In a leaked report to the Pentagon, General McChrystal expressed doubts that any purely military solution to the Afghan war would succeed and called for a complete overhaul of tactics that would focus on safeguarding the Afghan population. Extra troops would be needed to secure civilians in population centres in an effort to loosen the grip of the growing Taliban-led insurgency, but the exposure of troops under such a strategy would almost inevitably result in higher casualties.

President Obama today began a series of closed-door meetings to reassess US strategy in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has put General McChrystal's request on hold until Obama determines the proper way forward for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, deliberations that could take weeks.

Meanwhile, domestic support for the Afghan mission is rapidly waning in some of the forty countries with troops in Afghanistan under the NATO banner, particularly as rising casualties prove unpopular with voters. The Netherlands and Canada have set 2010 and 2011 as deadlines for withdrawal and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has announced plans for a ‘strong reduction' in Italian forces.

Some analysts believe that military strategy in Afghanistan is being sidelined by these domestic economic and political factors, and that defence may become a target for spending cuts by politicians mindful of domestic opinion and the poor state of national finances following the global downturn. James Joyner of the Atlantic Council believes that few Nato members still regard Afghanistan as having much bearing on their own state's security and see their presence in the region as a nuisance rather than a help.  

In his first speech made in US since taking up his post as Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen worked to allay US doubts over Europe's commitment to Afghanistan on Monday. Rasmussen noted that all Nato members understood that the campaign in Afghanistan was ‘not a war of choice but of necessity.' Without taking any position on the US-EU debate over whether additional troops are needed, Rasmussen noted that the training programme for Afghan forces needed to be stepped up. He proposed that ‘if Afghan security forces are to take the lead, they will need to be better trained, better equipped and likely more numerous, which means we are all going to have to invest more in training and equipping them.'

North Korea to combat nuclear proliferation

North Korea's vice-foreign minister, Pak Kil-yon, has claimed his country's nuclear weapons programme is being developed for the purpose of deterrence only. In a speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Pak said that North Korea's atomic weapons would be handled responsibly in order to prevent proliferation as North Korea's neighbours - China, Russia and South Korea - are either nuclear states or under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Kil-yon warned that the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula would only be possible if the US abandoned a policy of ‘confrontation' with Pyongyang.

North Korea withdrew from talks between the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia last October, with Pyongyang saying it would boycott the sessions until Washington dropped its ‘hostile' attitude.

More than 120 killed in Guinea protest

The death-toll resulting from a violent confrontation between Guinean security forces and an opposition rally in the country's capital, Conakry, has risen to 128.

Fifty-thousand protestors gathered in a stadium on Monday to demonstrate their opposition to plans by Guinea‘s military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, to stand in next year's presidential elections. The rally was confronted by security forces which, after initially firing tear-gas, began firing live ammunition, first as warning shots and then into the crowd. The violence quickly escalated and Human Rights Watch have reported soldiers bayoneting protesters and women being stripped and raped in the streets or forced into military vehicles and taken away. The United Nations, African Union and European Union have all condemned the violence.

Libya and Venezuela seek a new understanding of terrorism

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have signed a declaration calling for a new global definition of terrorism. The declaration, which has not been made public, will attempt to decouple the ‘legitimate struggle of the people for liberty and self-determination' from the label of terrorism.  Meeting after a summit of African and South American leaders in Venezuela, the two leaders urged a global conference to be held which would create new terms. At present, UN Member States have no agreed-upon definition of terrorism.

Iran to allow UN to inspect secret atom plant

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, has stated that Iran will allow UN inspectors to visit its recently unveiled atomic plant. Salehi told Iranian state television today that he will soon offer a timetable for international inspectors to visit the previously secret nuclear enrichment facility in Qum, and will write to the IAEA about the location of others. Referring to crucial talks due to begin on Thursday between Tehran and world powers concerned over Iran's nuclear ambitions, Salehi reiterated that Iran would not discuss the atomic plant nor Iran's nuclear rights, but would discuss general issues of non-proliferation and disarmament.

Another Iranian MP has suggested that the Iranian parliament might advocate withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if Thursday's talks fail to bring a change in US policies toward Iran, including an ease of sanctions.

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