Afghanistan: Mission Impossible or Mission Accomplished?
Since August 2003, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been engaged in Afghanistan to conduct security operations, train and develop the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Since then seven NATO summits have been held, the eighth and last NATO summit in the format of ISAF will be held at Newport, Wales on 5 September 2014.
The ISAF mission is a first of its kind; both in terms of numbers of troop contributing nations and geographical location. This decade was a historic one for NATO and the organisation has grown unprecedentedly. Since its engagement in Afghanistan the organisation has grown from 19 to 28 member countries. For the first time NATO allies had to take action under the Article Five of the treaty, which is the collective self-defence act. During this decade of war against terror more than 21,000 Afghan civilians, 13,000 ANSF, 3,500 international forces dead. There is not an exact figure of the allies’ expenditure in Afghanistan, but it runs into billions of US dollars. Over all this was the biggest ever mission of the organisation and a test for the allies.
The primary objective of the Alliance has been to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists. Today Afghanistan has 352,000 strong Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Their determination and dedication can’t be questioned. But for long-term sustainment of those forces they are in need of equipment and training.
Launched in 2011, the transition of full security responsibility is due to be completed at the end of 2014 and ISAF’s mission will end. To avoid any gap and for the sustainment of the ANSF the Afghan government and NATO allies agreed at the Chicago Summit for a follow-on mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF after 2014.
In the Chicago Summit Afghan government and the International Community agreed on an estimated annual budget of US$4.1billion for the ANSF. The model for the total ANSF size was envisaged a 228,500. The recent assessment of the Afghan government shows that the size is not enough, so they will urge for US6 billion in the upcoming summit. However it was mutually agreed in the Chicago Summit that the funding for the ANSF will be reviewed regularly against the developing security environment. But these pledges are condition based. The condition is clear and that is a legal framework for the presence of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
On the political side, NATO has contributed a huge amount in Afghanistan. It secured the constitutional Loya Jirga or grand council and support Afghan forces to secure all the elections since 2004. NATO has significantly contributed to the reconstruction and development efforts by the Afghan government and the international community. The large footprint of NATO across the country has enabled humanitarian and aid organisations to contribute in very remote areas of the country. And this was an opportunity for millions of Afghans in these very remote areas to raise their voice and to be heard in the country and around the world. NATO diplomats have served alongside the military and the NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan has played a significant role to connect NATO capitals with the Afghan government as well as to reach the neighbouring and regional countries.
Afghanistan is located in a region between four imbalanced nuclear powers. And it’s been in a vulnerable position throughout history because of the importance of its geopolitical and strategic location. So in order to strengthen peace, security and stability in Afghanistan, it is a wise decision to have a partnership with the world’s most powerful military and political organisation. Regional counties should also acknowledge that the presence of NATO in the region has significantly contributed to their own security and stability.
Of course there are still terrorist threats and there is violence in some of the neighbouring countries, but that could have been worst if NATO was not in the region during the last decade. So the presence of NATO in Afghanistan is not only in the interests of Afghanistan, but also in the interests of all the regional countries. In addition, it will not be a wise decision for NATO to turn its back on Afghanistan. The investments made in the last decade should not be in vain. NATO should also acknowledge and define its mutual interest in Afghanistan with its partner.
The NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership, signed in 2010 at the Lisbon Summit, has opened a wider platform. But because of the security transition process, the enduring partnership was not expanded. Meanwhile NATO has been negotiating with the Afghan government on the Status of Forces’ Agreement (SOFA) for its new mission. The Resolute Support Mission (RSM) will be a vital mission for the support of the emerging ANSF and for NATO’s goal, which is to ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists.
It’s for the current and new Afghan administration to consider the relationship and co-operation with NATO and the US a vital and urgent one. Such a partnership can be an assurance of the ANSF sustainability and security in the country and wider region. Any strong relationship with NATO is an access gate for Afghanistan to all 28-member allies as well as an assurance of a sovereign state free from any possible interferences of any country. Likewise NATO will also mutually benefit from having a relationship with a country, where billions have been invested and a country that has an important role for the security of the Alliance’s citizens.
Many legitimate concerns of the Afghan government, including the controversial issue of civilian casualties during NATO operations, independent operations and other matters has been increasingly addressed and there will be no room for such a concerns after completion of the current ISAF mission. So the Afghan government and NATO should be able to enter a new, comprehensive, closer, stronger and mutual relationship. It should be based on mutual commitment and long-term cooperation with full respect to the sovereignty of Afghanistan. The relation which can possibly make Afghanistan a NATO member country in the future.
This is a desire of Afghans to continue their relationship with the US and NATO allies. The endorsement of the Strategic Partnership and Bilateral Security Agreements with the US by more than 2,500 representatives of the Afghan people from across the country at the consultative Loya Jirgas last year and in 2011, are clear examples. There is no doubt that there is a mutual need for long-lasting and stronger relationships between Afghanistan and its partners, and these are needed sooner rather than later.
Hence it’s up to the current and new Afghan administration to immediately finalise the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and an agreement with NATO in order to allow the continuation of this historic relationship. That needs to be done urgently, before or during the NATO Summit in Wales. Then this Summit can be another historic milestone for the Afghanistan-US and NATO relationship.
by: Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam