At the June 28-29 NATO summit in Istanbul, both Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush appealed for NATO to immediately deploy more NATO troops in Afghanistan to boost security for the upcoming September elections. The requests largely fell on deaf ears.
Only about 1,500 extra NATO troops are expected to be deployed in Kabul and a further 700 troops are slated to take command of new provincial reconstruction teams in the northern provinces. Another 1,300 troops will be held in reserve outside Afghanistan for emergency use. This would make a total of 3,500 new troops to augment the existing 6,500 NATO troops operating under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeeping mission that NATO took over in August 2003. But the number of additional NATO troops scheduled for active deployment falls far short of the 5,000 new troops envisioned by Karzai’s government and the United Nations for immediate duty ahead of the September elections (Anatolia News Agency, June 28; Reuters, Kabul, June 29).
ISAF consists of troops from 26 NATO member states and 11 other countries. It primarily patrols the Afghan capital, Kabul. In December 2003, ISAF began deploying outside Kabul with the first new provincial reconstruction team (PRT), manned by 200 German soldiers, in the northern province of Kunduz. The new deployment of 700 NATO troops will set up PRT teams in the northern provinces of Faryab, Baghlan, and Badakhshan. Also, three temporary “satellite” PRTs likely will be set up in the provinces of Sar-e Pul, Jowzjan, and Samangan.
A forward-support base in the largest northern city, Mazar-i-Sharif (where U.S. and Coalition troops already have a PRT) will act as the logistical hub for ISAF’s northern PRTs. Another forward-support base is also being set up in the western city of Herat for future PRT teams deployed in the western provinces. U.S. and Coalition troops already have a PRT in Herat. NATO’s top commander, U.S. General James Jones, in a recent visit to Herat, said that the new PRTs are part of a strategy that could see NATO take command of nearly 20 PRTs across Afghanistan — starting in the north and moving to the west, and then to the south and southeast (PakTribune.com, July 5).
However, the very concept of civil-military PRTs, as they are presently configured, worries many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan. According to a CARE International official, the existing PRT model has neither the mandate nor the personnel or military resources to make a real difference in the lives of ordinary Afghans. The current PRT mandate is restricted to intelligence gathering, negotiations with local authorities, and setting up small reconstruction projects in collaboration with provincial governors, who are often warlords.
According to Sally Austin, CARE’s assistant country director in Afghanistan, “The ISAF mission needs to focus on training Afghan security forces, supporting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and counter-narcotics efforts.” She added, “With the right mandate, NATO can still help make Afghanistan a success story, but we are running out of time.” One week earlier, a group of 54 Afghan NGOs had called on NATO to refocus its attention on the security needs of the Afghan people and international aid workers, noting that there had been an alarming deterioration of security conditions over recent months (IRIN news.org, Kabul, July 1).
Most editorials in Afghan newspapers and interviews with Afghan citizens welcome the additional support of NATO forces in providing security, but there is concern that NATO forces would cut their numbers after the projected September elections.
An editorial in Kabul’s Dari-language newspaper Anis on July 4 commented, “That NATO has expressed the preparedness to increase its forces in Afghanistan temporarily and deploy them before the elections in this country is good news for the people of Afghanistan. However, the important thing is that the term ‘temporary’ should be clearly defined. The people of Afghanistan should be assured that NATO forces will be deployed in the provinces of the country and will remain there until complete peace is restored in Afghanistan.”
But while NATO involvement in the security of Afghanistan, especially the hinterlands, is welcome, there is the problem of the ISAF’s inability to reach most of the population. Unless the provincial authorities truly reflect the wishes and aspirations of the central government in Kabul, Afghanistan will continue to be governed in segments rather than as a whole.
NATO’s role has become important precisely because the 20,000 U.S.-led coalition forces have been concentrated on Afghanistan’s eastern and southern borders with Pakistan in their futile hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants for almost three years. Only 11 PRTs — typically consisting of just 100 personnel in each — have been allocated to the rest of the country.