Tags: NATO, noimage, Proceedings, Stavridis
While I certainly sympathize with the thrust of John Kuehn’s title in his energetic article about the situation in Afghanistan, I’d like to offer a somewhat different perspective from my position as the Supreme Allied Commander for all NATO operations, including the 140,000, 50-nation coalition in Afghanistan.
First, I want to agree with John’s laudatory comments about our NATO / ISAF Commander in Afghanistan, my Naval Academy classmate and close friend General John Allen; as well as the commander of NATO’s Training Mission – Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Dan Bolger. Both are doing superb work in truly demanding assignments.
In terms of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, while there are some similarities, the differences are far greater, and far more encouraging than the situation back in 1989.
In comparison to the Soviet Union, the ISAF coalition has devoted great resources to human capital and infrastructure development, and we have devoted significantly greater troop numbers for kinetic operations; and we already are well underway with a responsible and managed turnover of security responsibilities to Afghan National Security Forces. Most importantly, the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan after the majority of ISAF forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014 is real and tangible: detailed planning is in progress now in NATO.
A few key metrics to consider:
- NATO / ISAF is a 50-nation troop contributing coalition which peaked at just over 140,000 troops, with about a 2:1 ratio of US to other nations, both in term of troop levels and KIA. The Soviets were on their own and had far fewer troops.
- In addition to NATO / ISAF troop levels that significantly exceeded the Soviet level, and we will have trained-up 350,000 Afghan security forces compared to the Soviet-trained forces of around 60,000–almost six times higher.
- As witnessed by the Bonn (2011) and Tokyo (2012) international conferences on Afghanistan, a truly global coalition of over 90 nations and hundreds of non-governmental humanitarian organizations are pledged for another decade of engagement in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan under the Soviets this was not the case at all.
- Afghan troops are in the lead for security in 75% of the country today as the third tranche of transition moves them to the lead. Our NATO / ISAF overall casualties are 30% lower than last year as the Afghans take the lead. Independent polling (e.g. Asia Foundation) show approval ratings for Afghan security forces at well over 80%, while the Taliban poll less than 10% nationally.
- NATO / ISAF will, as pledged at the recent NATO Summit in Chicago, leave a capable “train, equip, and mentor” mission in Afghanistan post-2014 when the bulk of the combat forces will be withdrawn.
- Afghanistan has 8 million children in school (3.5 million girls) as opposed to least than 500,000 under the Taliban. Electricity availability has increased six-fold in terms of population with access. Health care availability has gone from 6% to over 60%, and infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are dropping rapidly. The NATO / ISAF comprehensive approach to civil-military affairs is working.
- As an example of the broad base of international support beyond even the 50-nation ISAF / NATO coalition, Russia is also supporting the current effort by allowing ISAF support-material to be transported through its territory to and from Afghanistan. Similarly, the NATO-Russian Council Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund, and a Counter Narcotics Training Project are also tangible evidence of Russian support for this international effort.
Are there daunting challenges ahead? Of course. Corruption, uneven governance, and cross-border operations coming from Pakistan will continue to be difficult.
Overall, our plan is indeed to “punch them in the nose,” but in terms that go beyond simple kinetic operations. We must and will continue engagement post-2014 with Afghans fully in the lead for security and with NATO / ISAF mentorship, support, and assistance. This was the clear message from the heads of state and government who gathered at the recent Chicago Summit, and in NATO today we are doing the detailed planning to fulfil that message.
If we execute this plan — fully turn over security lead to the Afghans and follow through with financial and training support post-2014 — I believe we have a reasonable chance at success in Afghanistan, despite the many challenges.