Saturday, February 12, 2005

NATO taking the lead in Afghanistan

Even while German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is calling for a reassessment of transatlantic relationships, NATO is taking on new responsibilities in Afghanistan. Given that the U.S. needs desperately to reduce its commitments abroad, it seems surprising that this story has gotten so little play in the MSM. From Der Spiegel:
The United States and NATO agreed Thursday to merge their missions in Afghanistan, which would effectively put control of peacekeeping operations there into European and Turkish hands. The move marks a major step forward for European-American cooperation in the country, which has been occupied since the US overthrew the Taliban after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Among the expansions of the mandate of the 8,000-strong NATO force will be to send new troops to Herat and other Western cities. By 2006, NATO is hoping to have peacekeeping troops in all parts of the country.

What the new combined mission won't do, however, is pull counterterrorism missions under the joint umbrella. Germany opposed melding those missions because it would make it impossible for the government to obtain approval in parliament to extend the presence of German Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan. Under the agreement reached, NATO members are also invited to participate in risky anti-terror operations at their own discretion - a move that neatly skirts sensitivities over the issue. Last week Germany rejected a request by Washington that would have made a number of anti-terror initiatives -- like operations near the Pakistan border - the Europeans' responsibility. The US has been seeking to reduce its 10,000 troops in Afghanistan so it can send reinforcements to Iraq. Now it looks like it will be able to do that, but British troops will be taking over many of the messy jobs in Afghanistan.

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