Updated: 30-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches


21 Feb. 2005

NATO in Afghanistan

Special interactive video forum series with Jamie Shea

Audio file
Video forum

DR. JAMIE P. SHEA (Public Diplomacy Division): Welcome to Stopwatch. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Jamie Shea, here at NATO Headquarters. This is the first Stopwatch, a new series which we're launching on the NATO website.

Every month for the next months, heading into the summer break, there will be a Stopwatch where I will meet with a group of invited experts, some from NATO, some who are not from NATO, to discuss a topical issue of the day.

Over the next months we'll be looking at NATO's efforts to bridge the Mediterranean and form security partnerships with countries in Africa and the wider Middle East. We'll also be looking at how NATO's getting on in fighting international terrorism, and what are the prospects for a better transatlantic relationship in the wake of the NATO Summit next week.

But today we're going to start this first ever Stopwatch on Afghanistan. What has NATO been doing since it engaged in Afghanistan? Why is it there? Are we making a success of the mission? And what can you expect NATO to be doing in the future?

As always I would very much welcome your e-mail questions in advance, which I will endeavour to use in Stopwatch, by putting your questions directly to the experts and I would very much welcome, afterwards, your feedback and your evaluation on any questions that came to your mind as you followed this series.

Today let me first of all introduce our three invited guests. First of all, Simon Brooks. Simon is from Australia. He works with the International Committee of the Red Cross, where he's responsible for relations and liaison with military forces in Europe. Simon has been all around the crisis areas of the modern world, from the Balkans to Afghanistan. So thank you very much for coming.

SIMON BROOKS (Delegate to the Armed Forces of Western Europe from the International Committee of the Red Cross): A pleasure.

SHEA: I also would like to introduce Diego Ruiz-Palmer who is the head of the planning section in NATO's Operations Division, where he has responsibility for planning and policy work relating to NATO's missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Diego, thanks very much.

DIEGO RUIZ-PALMER (Head of Crisis Management Planning, NATO's Operations Division): Thank you.

SHEA: And last, but by no mean least, Pierre Trudel of the Canadian Armed Forces. Pierre is the Deputy Branch Chief in the Operations Division on NATO's international military staff. He's just come back from a tour of duty in Kabul, Afghanistan. So Pierre, welcome to you.

We've got 30 minutes, so I want a no-holds-barred frank and open discussion and I'm going to start with Diego.

Diego, it probably strikes many of our listeners and viewers as somewhat strange that NATO, an organization that was designed to defend Western Europe, should now be going out of area and as far away as Afghanistan. What has prompted NATO to go to Afghanistan? Why are we there?

RUIZ-PALMER: Well, Jamie, I think for two very good reasons. One essentially political, the other military.

Politically, in the spring 2002, after the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11th, 2001, the Alliance decided that it must have forces ready to deploy to wherever they might be needed. That was NATO's response to the realization that threats could emerge anywhere in the world, that could threaten NATO member countries, but more probably the international community.

And therefore, taking stock of what had happened with the attacks on the United States, where they were conceived in Afghanistan, even though they were executed in the United States, NATO took this view that it had to be able to project stability well beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. Hence, being able to be in Afghanistan today.

Militarily, several NATO nations took the lead of this International Security Assistance Force that was created in the end of 2001 to provide assistance to the new Afghanistan. And very soon the nations that led that force, initially the United Kingdom, Turkey, then Netherlands and Germany--by the way all NATO nations--realized that it was very demanding and burdensome for them to lead this force on a national basis, and turned naturally to NATO, with its experience and large planning capabilities, to lead ISAF.

And so I think when I you bring these two dimensions together it explains why we're doing what we're doing today in Afghanistan.

SHEA: Well, thank you. Pierre, could you tell us exactly what the mandate of ISAF is? What it does, but what it doesn't do, so that we can understand a little bit better the scope of this mission?

PIERRE TRUDEL (Deputy Chief of Current Operations, NATO's Operations Division): Absolutely. The core of the mandate is to assist the government of Afghanistan in establishing a safe and secure environment, so the future is brighter for the country.

How we do it? We do it through the deployment of over 8000 troops. Most of them right now in Kabul, either at the Headquarters or the Multinational Brigade. We also have Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north of the country, and soon we will have new teams established in the western part of the country.

We also play some sort of way of a coordination role amongst the international community. And we also support the Security Sector Reforms, some of the pillars. We provide assistance to the Counter-Narcotics pillar within our means and capabilities. Also we assist with the process of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of former combatants. And we also provide some kind of assistance in the training of the Afghan army.

So in a nutshell this is what we do in Afghanistan at this point in time.

SHEA: Simon, from your point of view, working for an NGO that's very much engaged on the ground in Afghanistan, do you think that ISAF has made a decisive difference to stability in the country? NATO has been criticized for being rather slow in expanding beyond Kabul, being rather slow at, for example, at going out into the sort of provinces, particularly in the west and the south of the country, or simply not having many troops there.

I mean, we have what, sort of 8000 compared with 60,000 in Bosnia back in the nineties, or 30,000, nearly 40,000 in Kosovo. What's your take on how well NATO's doing at the moment?

BROOKS: I think, Jamie, obviously we're aware that there have been certain criticisms, there has been support. I think there are pros and cons that have been voiced by many humanitarian actors, if I can put it that way.

From the perspective of the ICRC, my organizations, neutral independent actor, focused on victims of a conflict, bringing them protection and assistance. We are, I suppose quite a unique organization in the sense that we're not there to judge operations, the legitimacy of an intervention, whatever.

What we are concerned about is the performance of arms carriers and others, in respect of international humanitarian law. And I think to that extent our view of the ISAF deployment is we'd have to say a good one.

I think also quite positively is the fact that NATO has sought to engage in... ISAF particularly has sought to engage in a level of dialogue with the humanitarian actors, which I think is essential. Because if you're going to be successful in your mission, and this is obviously part of... this is the reasons that you're there, the need to have a dialogue, to clear up differences, and for people to understand what you're doing and how you're doing it, I think is essential. And so in that respect I think ISAF has been quite positive from our perspective.

SHEA: Diego, from inside the house, I mean, how would you judge the successes of ISAF thus far? And do you think that after these well-publicized problems filling the shortfalls and finding the capabilities, do you think that now we're beyond that, and we can expect a sort of smoother roll-out of the mission in the future?

RUIZ-PALMER: Yes, I believe so. I think, obviously given the location of Afghanistan so far removed from what has traditionally been the centre of gravity of this Alliance, Western Europe, it has been very demanding on allies. Not only to deploy troops, but to make available these operational enablers, helicopters, transport aircraft, combat aircraft, other critical capabilities which are large, expensive to move, and expensive to maintain.

But I think we have now reached critical mass. We are in Kabul, have been in Kabul now for 18 months. We have expanded to the north in 2004. We will be expanding to the west in 2005, and already leaders are preparing the ground for expanding to southern Afghanistan in 2006. Actually our Secretary General a few days ago at the Nice meeting of defence ministers clearly explained that we will be, in effect, in charge of 50 percent of the country and we have an intention eventually of taking over the whole of the security assistance mission throughout Afghanistan.

So I'm very optimistic, although I recognize it is a demanding mission and we will, I'm sure from time to time express some difficulties of getting exactly everything that is needed. But I'm very confident that we will do what is necessary and I think we have demonstrated that that can happen.

SHEA: Diego, let me ask you, nonetheless, a follow-up. Why did NATO have problems initially resourcing the capabilities? Was it the fact that allies are already heavily engaged in the Balkans, in Bosnia, or Kosovo, that European countries have commitments in Africa, or that others are in Iraq and NATO simply ran out of capabilities? Or do you think, as maybe you're implying, that this was a new mission for NATO and that the political will hadn't quite been generated to understand that Afghanistan was important, and be prepared to make the financial sacrifices to get the troops out there.

What's your reading on that?

RUIZ-PALMER: Jamie, I think it's a combination of all of those. I think a combination of the fact that they're already involved in many NATO operations, which are also demanding. The fact that there are some 20 peacekeeping operations around the world, many in Africa; we have Haiti, we have many other places. And all of those are critically dependent, again, not only on having troops... boots on the ground, but these critical enablers, these Headquarters capabilities, field hospitals, engineers, all of those are in high demand, and there's in effect, sorry, embedded competition between all these operations in trying to get the appropriate mix.

And it is true that for NATO, for this institution, for the allies who had had sort of Europe as the horizon of their engagement, Afghanistan was a total change. And that means that allies have to now plan in their defence planning and their resource planning for having to make available these capabilities for months, sometimes for years, and make the resource allocations to do that.

That is not something that is done overnight, but I think we're getting much better at it, and you will see in the months ahead, an ISAF footprint that is much larger, but also much better equipped.

So again, I'm optimistic that we're learning from some of our limitations in the past, and we will be much more forceful in the future.

SHEA: But Pierre, nonetheless though, changing Headquarters every six months, where a country suddenly leaves, taking all of its resources and experience with it, and the new country comes in, which has to start the learning process, doesn't seem like a very efficient way for the Alliance to do business.

Do you think that we could improve on these kind of six-month rotations by having a kind of more permanent commitment? Or is it just life the way we have to sort of accept it?

TRUDEL: No. On other missions the rotation of the senior person takes place every year. There's a lot to be said for that. A six-month rotation, it takes the incoming unit, or senior leadership, about a month to get used to the place, to get acquainted with the leadership of the country, and a month before they're due to go the new staff, the new command element arrives and they go over the same procedures. So in a sense they are efficient for about four months of their tour.

A year-long tour for selected senior staff would... there's a lot to be said for that, and would be beneficial to the mission. I wouldn't advocate that for the troops, but certainly for the senior leadership.

SHEA: Thanks. Pierre, let me also follow-up. The word Provincial Reconstruction... or the term rather Provincial Reconstruction Teams has been used. This is a sort of a rather novel concept. Before Afghanistan we really hadn't heard of these so-called PRTs. Can you explain what they actually do, because there seems to be a little bit of confusion on that point? And then I'm going to ask Simon, particularly from the point of view of a humanitarian NGO, if he feels that this is the sort of the right way forward?

TRUDEL: The PRT concept was first established by the coalition, the American-led coalition. A PRT consists of a small military element, supported by civilian personnel belonging to the Minister of Foreign Affairs or Development and so on. Their role is to extend the range of the government of Afghanistan, ensure that they're represented in remote parts of the country.

PRTs will ensure that NATO has a presence on the ground. They will assist, sometime train the national army or the police. They will be a link with the local governor, the local politicians and so on. And when the situation flares up, it has been known that PRT commanders have been involved and managed to bring the situation under control. So indeed, PRT plays a useful role.

The problem sometime with PRTs is they don't have the enablers, the elements necessary to push a situation in the right direction. They're very light on the ground, especially NATO PRTs are very light on the ground. The former commander of ISAF, Joe Hillier, had reservations about the role of the PRTs and he made it known.

American PRTs are... support in a different way and have more fighting power than NATO PRTs. Having said that, our PRTs are doing a good role and doing a good job, and the expansion right now, when you will look at lessons learned from the current PRTs, it looks pretty good for our expansion in the west and the role we're going to play there.

SHEA: But Simon, as I was saying, the NGOs have had sometimes some critical observations about PRTs. I've heard talk that these sort of militarized the traditional civilian-humanitarian function and that the military should concentrate just on security and not really get involved in aid and reconstruction work. I mean, how... from your point of view, your experience, how do you see this?

BROOKS: Well, I think there are two essential points, and Pierre made a point a moment ago about, I guess differing sets of objectives within PRTs. I mean, I think the humanitarian community with the experience, certainly the ICRC, has been that you can't say that the PRT model represents X, Y and Z. I mean, there can be variations on that. And that's, I think, one issue which is difficult to understand.

The other point, as you yourself have said, I mean this is a fairly relative... well, this is a fairly new concept. In terms of Afghanistan, it, I think, it's quite a challenge for humanitarian organizations, which in some cases have been there for more than 25 years. My organization has been associated with Afghanistan since the late 1970s. And to have a major actor coming in, the military in association with, if you like, reconstruction elements, and to adapt to an understanding, within a dialogue, I think, is quite challenging. And so I think there have been certain misconceptions, I would say.

From our side, again, I think it's been very positive in that ISAF has been very willing to engage in a dialogue with us, and we've sought this dialogue, as we seek a dialogue with all arms carriers in any particular context.

If I could just make a final point: I think this whole business of the PRTs, if you like, and integration of effort, is clearly the way that governments, I think, are demonstrating they want to go in the post-conflict environment. I think within Iraq there are similar, if you like, structures emerging there as well. And it make sense, I think, if looked at objectively, to say governments who wish to pool their resources to achieve, if you like, an end state within a nation-building process.

And for us we accept that if this is the way the governments want to go, this is all well and good. There are a number of concerns that my organization has, and that is where there is, if you like, a blurring of lines, military operating with... not in uniform. These sorts of things, I think, give a certain precarity to operations which humanitarians can lead. And I think that to a certain extent this is where some of the criticisms have been levelled.

SHEA: Diego, do you think these are sort of fair observations from the NGO side, particularly having military not in uniform? Do we need to do a better job of explaining the PRT concept to the other NGO groups that (inaudible)...


RUIZ-PALMER: Well, I'm sure there's always room for getting the message out in a better way. I mean, I think we have to realize PRT is a new concept. This is not the traditional way that, for instance, NATO has operated. We have not done so in Bosnia, we have not done so in Kosovo.

It is, I think, something that is quite well adapted to both the geography of the country, its remoteness and the particular circumstances of the mission we're trying to accomplish. And I think it fulfils the need to provide a kind of secure environment around the towns, around the villages. I mean, there's no reconstruction that can take place, there's no return to normal life. There's no possibility for the children to go back to school and so on and so forth, unless you have that kind of secure environment where the reconstruction efforts of the international community, of the NGOs, are very much dependent on security assistance, and that security assistance itself cannot take root if those reconstruction efforts don't flourish.

So I think the PRTs can be a prototype(?), can certainly be better explained, but I think they are the right tool for the right place for the right moment, if you wish, in that sense.

SHEA: Yeah, Pierre, come in.

TRUDEL: I just want to make the point that the term reconstruction is misleading. The local population very often will think that the PRT will bring money to reconstruct the city and so on or the village, or whatever. This is not the case, unfortunately. They have limited capacity to undertake humanitarian projects.

SHEA: Well, let me go to another topic, particularly as our Stopwatch clock, of course, is ticking. This is this notion of a merger. I'm sure our viewers will know that there are two missions at the moment in Afghanistan. There's the ISAF mission, which we're addressing, but there's also the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom in the south, which has been fighting the al-Qaeda remnants and the Taliban. I understand there's talk at NATO Headquarters now about merging these two missions.

Why would we want to do that if the missions are quite distinct. You know, one peacekeeping, and the other more war-fighting? What's in it for NATO? Diego?

RUIZ-PALMER: Well, Jamie, I think we need to be quite categorical, I think, with some of the facts here. They are distinct, it is true. In the sense that they were started at different times for different purposes and they're different mandates. They had an initial very distinct focus. They had different capabilities.

But we have to also recognized that there's some things that bring them together. The fact that, for instance, a good part of what Enduring Freedom does is security assistance. Actually only a fraction of the coalition forces are actually involved in day-to-day combat on the southern and eastern fringes of Afghanistan.

A lot of what the U.S.-led coalition PRTs do is security assistance; is very close, very similar to what NATO is trying to accomplish.

So I think there is already an overlap. And as time has gone by, actually Operation Enduring Freedom has been doing less and less combat and more and more security assistance, which has brought the two operations closer together.

On the other hand, also, we have to recognize that some ten NATO allies contribute forces to Operation Enduring Freedom. We always forget that after the attacks on the United States, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, a number of NATO allies joined the United States under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which allows for individual contributions to a collective response. And that's exactly what they did.

And so as we have found out over time, it is somewhat dysfunctional to have two separate operations with separate chains of command, but whose ultimate purpose, which is to build a new democratic Afghanistan of peace, is essentially the same. Even though the methods; one is more a combat operation, another one is more... obviously security assistance oriented, but at the end the end result is nonetheless a self-standing Afghanistan.

SHEA: Well, I suppose, Simon, that people interested in Afghanistan would probably be saying to themselves, well, look, you know, if NATO and Enduring Freedom, they merged their efforts, we'll have one big force in Afghanistan, and once we have one big force that covers all of the country we should be absolutely able to better deal with the problems that everybody's pointing at: the warlords, all of these militias that are still in place, which could disrupt the central government. And of course, the big drugs problem.

From your perspective, with an NGO, do you think that we're not really doing enough at the moment to tackle those two key problems?

BROOKS: I think on those two particular... those two particular issues I'm not particularly sure that I'm qualified to be able to respond. But just to come back to a point, I mean, I think the integration of these missions, or the possibility, as Diego was saying, of these missions being integrated, points to something that I think former marine commandant in the U.S., Commandant Krulak, pointed to "the three block war", and I think wherein he saw that within the same contextual environment that you'd have forces conducting peacekeeping operations, humanitarian operations and also the war fighting.

I think what this means for humanitarian organizations, in the whole spectrum of activities that you're going to accomplish there, whether it be dealing with the warlords issue, as you put it, or drugs issue, whatever, is that for humanitarians I think it's quite difficult to understand how it is that the environment changed so rapidly in what we would term the global confrontation, or what I guess you'd term the counter-insurgency effort. And for organizations that, to a large extent, have been rejected within environments where they've been accepted in the past. Again, I think for all of us I make no secret of the fact that within Afghanistan the movement, the freedom of movement for the ICRC has been limited since about 2003 when one of our delegates was murdered in the field.

For us, I think understanding what it is that a combined force was achieving, how it was going about it in prosecuting its political and military objectives, is important. And I think, again, to the extent that there is a solid dialogue, and there's a strong explanation, and also the ability for humanitarians to go out there and achieve what it is that they're supposed to.

SHEA: Well Pierre, just very briefly, because we don't have a great deal of time left, and I want to talk a little bit about the future, but what is ISAF doing in a concrete way to cope with these warlords and their weapons, as well as to assist in curbing the drug production?

TRUDEL: Well, the first point about the DDR process within Kabul...

SHEA: DDR being...?

TRUDEL: Demobilization, Reintegration... Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration. We've done... within Kabul we've been active in making sure that the somewhat heavy equipment has been cantoned, returned to proper cantonment.

As the second part of your question, outside Kabul our role is more limited, and special agencies are dealing with that.

As your second part of your question dealing with counter-narcotics, our role is very limited. Right now it consists in logistics report and exchange of information with the agencies dealing with that.

And the point is that we will have to do more because curbing... this is what is keeping the drug lords alive, and a lot of illegal activities take part around them. And if NATO wants to at some point put together an exit strategy, this will have to be addressed in very dramatic way, and I don't think we'll be able to avoid getting involved at some point.

SHEA: Well thanks, because the drug issue is an issue which the e-mails in advance of this program have mainly highlighted, so it's obviously one that's not going to go away.

But now, turning to the future... We've been through the presidential elections. They've gone surprisingly well. Better than anybody had dared hope. We've now got the parliamentary elections coming up. We don't know when, but sometime. We've got the end of the so-called bomb process, which is what the international community envisaged. The country will have its sovereignty under a new democratic set of institutions. Though Diego, after this summer, do they still need NATO? Do we still have a role there? Can we declare mission accomplished and bring the troops home? Hoe do you see the future of NATO's engagement in Afghanistan if the Afghans are now able to handle their own affairs?

RUIZ-PALMER: Well, Jamie, I think we are sort of halfway in a way. I mean, one way of looking at it is sort of a big phase one of the process is about to conclude. That was started in Bonn, as you mentioned, in December 2001, and the end point of that process was to get a new sort of self-standing Afghanistan with an elected government based on a parliamentary elections and we're very close to that. We hope to have parliamentary elections by the summer. And I think that that mandate from Bonn will have been fulfilled.

But I think we need to move beyond that, because I think that in order to ensure that we will have a vibrant Afghanistan for the long term, we need to ensure that the civil society, that all the institutions are in place. So I think there is very much an important role for NATO to continue to play through ISAF.

And I think what we will witness over the next year or so is both a geographic expansion of ISAF, as we have explained, to the west and into the south, but also a functional expansion of NATO's role in terms of providing greater support across some of those SSR pillars that Pierre has mentioned, these Security Sector Reform, whether it's training the new Afghan army, providing greater support to demobilization of militia, or planning support to the Afghan government or the counter-narcotics campaign.

SHEA: I mean, Pierre, would you say that the logical thing would be for NATO to invite Afghanistan to join the Partnership for Peace, because let's face it, many of these activities which Diego is describing are activities that NATO's been carrying out under the partnership with countries from central and eastern Europe or the Caucasus or Central Asia? Should we enlarge Partnership for Peace and bring in Afghanistan?

TRUDEL: Why not? NATO seems to be no borders these days. But I have to say, joke aside, that when I was there, this is an issue that was at one point mentioned by high-level representative of the Afghan government. Not much has happened since, but eventually why not?

SHEA: Well Simon, we're looking a little bit now towards the long term. NATO seems to be going increasingly into Central Asia, the Middle Eastern region. In your view, particularly as an NGO, is that something which is helpful, or is a high NATO profile in this part of the world which may could be seen, if you like, as sort of domination by the West. Is that something which may complicate your efforts in the future?

BROOKS: I think that the direction that NATO will take will obviously be dependent on a whole series of factors; political objectives etc. And I think that obviously the speakers here today have indicated that Afghanistan is quite a complicated problem to be dealing with to begin with.

From that perspective, my organization, with its focus on victims of conflict, I mean, we want to have access to that. We want to ensure that NATO understands who we are, what our role is in places like Afghanistan and to allow us to do our job. And I have to say that, you know, we would salute, if I can use that term, NATO for allowing us, to, if you like, engage with NATO and to bring a better understanding of who we are.

SHEA: Well, thank you very much to my three guests for giving up their valuable time to be here today, and to participate in this first ever Stopwatch. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I hope the audience enjoys it. Otherwise, we probably won't have any more Stopwatches.

But at least, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for tuning in today. Send us your e-mails with your frank reactions. We'll read every one. We don't promise to reply, but we'll at least try to read them. And don't forget to tune in for another fascinating edition in one month's time.

But for now from NATO, over and out.

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