Trouble Among the Allies

June 25, 2010 - 5:27 AM
The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal shone the global spotlight on Afghanistan when most of the world was pretty happy ignoring what has -- or has not -- been going on there.
From Idaho Falls, Idaho
Idaho GOP State Convention
 
The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal shone the global spotlight on Afghanistan when most of the world was pretty happy ignoring what hasl, or has not , been going on there.
 
Here's everything I know about our Afghan strategy: If we could trust the Karzai government not to let the Taliban turn the place into band camp for terrorists again, we'd be out of there by Labor Day.
 
But the collateral effects of the McChrystal deal has more to do with our allies than with our enemies. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is a largely NATO/UN/US operation has, according to ISAF's web page, 46 nations contributing about 119,500 troops.
 
Not surprisingly, the largest chunk is U.S. service personnel (78,000). In case you were wondering, Greece has 70 troops there, which might be a significant proportion of its total standing Army.
 
One problem is, every country is having severe budget issues and there is no single bigger expense than keeping a soldier in a war zone -- with the possible exception of building and maintaining the aircraft which supports him or her.
 
In fact, a Wall Street Journal article being published in Friday morning's edition leads with: "European governments' budget-slashing efforts are expected to cut deep into the Continent's defense spending, widening the gulf between U.S. and European military capabilities."
 
Although the article points out that "tight finances don't appear likely to affect European deployment to Afghanistan, in the short term" there doesn't seem to be anything "short term" about Afghanistan.
 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a McChrystal moment last month when the German President (a largely ceremonial office) had to resign after saying that "German soldiers serving in Afghanistan or with other peacekeeping missions were deployed to protect German economic interests."
 
What he meant to say was they were deployed to protect the human rights of the Afghan people and to protect the world from the spread of terrorism. But he slipped and said it was for economic reasons.
 
In the UK, according to the German publication, Der Welle, "Britain's conservative-liberal government took office two months ago saying Afghanistan was its top foreign policy priority. The government has since made noises about withdrawing its 9,500 troops but has yet to suggest a timeframe."
 
The Dutch are scheduled to withdraw their troops (2,000) this summer and it doesn't look likely that any country which didn't win its World Cup match about one minute into extra time on Wednesday to make it into the round of sixteen, will be stepping in to make up the loss of overall troop strength.
 
The head of Poland's National Security Bureau said after the McChrystal sacking that NATO forces in Afghanistan, including about 2,500 Poles, according to another WSJ article, "are just passively waiting for developments as the situation there grows continuously worse."
 
More? In Canada even with a parliamentary committee recommending this week that "at least some" of the 2,800 troops which are scheduled to be withdrawn over the next six months remain to help in a training capacity. No estimate on the size of "some," but the government is holding to its position that however few Canadian troops are left, none would be in a combat role.
 
In Canberra, Australia, the government said it would begin withdrawing its Australia's 1,550 troops (also there in a training role) within two years.
 
In France, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin "launched a new political movement Saturday," according to the AP in opposition to current President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying: "France lets its soldiers die in Afghanistan in a war that it doesn't have the courage to withdraw from."
 
According to ISAF there are about 3,750 French troops in Afghanistan, a number which Sarkozy said last week he has no intention of augmenting.
 
This long (and admittedly boring) recitation on the flagging enthusiasm among our allies for a no-end-in-sight war in Afghanistan is going to take up a lot more time and attention from President Obama and his Diplomatic/National Defense team if only because of the attention drawn by the Rolling Stone article.
 
Look for the team of David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton to start an international road show to major capitals to try to shore up that wilting support.
 
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links and links and links to most of the stories mentioned above, a classically "small-town" Mullfoto and a Catchy Caption of the Day.