NATO allies join US Afghan surge

Allied countries inside and outside NATO have committed an additional 7,000 troops to Afghanistan. A bloody suicide attack has left at least 37 dead in Pakistan. The Islamic militant group al-Shabab has denied involvement in Thursday’s bomb attack in Somalia, accusing the Somali government instead. All this and more, in today’s security briefing.
Oliver Scanlan
4 December 2009

Speaking to reporters at a NATO summit in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance will be sending at least 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Predicting that ‘at least’ 25 countries will be sending reinforcements, Rasmussen added that there would be ‘more to come.’ The largest contributors include Italy and the UK. Non-NATO members Georgia and South Korea have also pledged to increase their own contingents. Significantly, major countries including Germany and France have yet to commit further forces. 

Two days before the NATO announcement, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan told Al Jazeera that he was concerned that the coalition was repeating mistakes made by the Soviet Union during its occupation in the 1980s. Ambassador Andrey Avetisyan, when asked about lessons learned by the Russians during their own Afghan war, replied that the strategy of occupying key towns and cities, without attempting to increase influence in the countryside, was a key error that ISAF is now repeating. 

On Thursday, humanitarian agencies called for increased donor funding for Afghanistan, as well as separating aid and development work from counterinsurgency. In a press release, the ACBAR coalition, representing over one hundred Afghan and international aid agencies, called for $870 million of additional aid, as well as for the clear separation of aid policy from political and military objectives.

The openSecurity verdict: The risk of increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan has been well elucidated by several commentators, including Paul Rogers. Developments over the last 72 hours have raised further questions about the chances of ISAF’s mission succeeding. The comments of the Russian ambassador underscore Rogers’ own misgivings over garrisoning cities and large towns in what is a predominantly rural society.

The continuing reluctance of Germany and France to commit more troops, despite what is likely to be sustained pressure from the US administration, indicates the fact that European governments face in some cases far higher domestic political risks in increasing their military commitments than the Obama administration. Rasmussen’s telling qualification that the 7,000-strong reinforcement is for the mission ‘in 2010’ suggests that if security conditions continue to deteriorate, the integrity of the international coalition may rapidly begin to fray. Allies both inside and outside NATO contribute around a third of all troops in Afghanistan and account for over 40% of military casualties. If the coalition collapses, it is extremely unlikely that the United States can unilaterally sustain a state building effort.

The warnings from the ACBAR coalition should be taken seriously by ISAF member states. It is not sufficient to simply state that increasing resources for development and aid work is a crucial pillar of the new strategy; hard questions have to be answered on how this effort is implemented. The aid agencies note that the first hurdle is a deplorable lack of resources, with countries typically contributing aid funding equivalent to 10% of the amount spent on military commitments. Another problem is that around 40% of the aid that is contributed does not reach Afghans due to the costs of foreign consultants’ salaries, the majority of them security contractors.

The other key problem highlighted by ACBAR’s press release is likely to be even more intractable. Aid agencies report that the blurring of lines between the aid effort and the counterinsurgency battle is substantively hindering Afghanistan’s development. CARE International’s country director, Lex Kassenberg goes so far to say that his organisation has been forced to turn down funding because the requirement to work with coalition military personnel and provisional reconstruction teams would entail a crippling breach of trust with local communities. With the active participation of such communities generally considered to be a sine qua non for the success of rural development programmes, such obstacles pose additional major risks to ISAF’s strategy. 

Dozens dead as terrorists strike Rawalpindi mosque

A suicide attack on a mosque in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, today so far left 37 people dead and 60 wounded. At least four men stormed the mosque equipped with suicide vests, automatic weapons and grenades. Two of the men are reported killed by Pakistani security forces, with the others believed to have blown themselves up. The mosque, described by one survivor as a ‘high profile target’ is located near a Pakistani army barracks. It counts many serving and retired military officers among its congregation, and worshippers require membership badges to gain entrance.

Rawalpindi is located very near to Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad and was the capital itself while Islamabad was being constructed. The presence of the Pakistani armed forces’ headquarters and the concomitant presence of large numbers of army personnel have made Rawalpindi a major target for Taliban militants. Like other terrorist incidents across Pakistan recently, today’s attack is considered to be an act of retaliation against the Pakistani army’s six week old offensive against Taliban positions in South Waziristan.

Al-Shabab blames Somali government for bomb attack

A spokesman for the Islamist militant group al-Shabab has denied involvement in a bomb attack in Mogadishu that killed at least 23 people and injured more than 40. Speaking on Friday, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said that ‘it was not in the nature of al-Shabab to target innocent people’. Instead, Rage said that the presence of government officials in the area just before the explosion proves that the provisional regime in Somalia, which al-Shabab opposes, was behind the attack.

The attack was carried out on Thursday by a suicide bomber disguised as a woman. The bomber struck the Shamo hotel where a graduation ceremony for medical students was being held. In addition to students killed in the attack, the dead included the ministers for education, higher education and health. One analyst has suggested that today’s denial may indicate that a faction of the militant group may have carried out the attack without the knowledge of al-Shabab’s leadership.

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