Published in Nacional number 734, 2009-12-08

Autor: Maroje Mihovilović

CROATIANS IN NATO's "Surge" in Afghanistan

Croatia to give Obama a further 50 soldiers

THE CROATIAN CONTINGENT in Afghanistan will, at the request of US President Barack Obama, grow next year from 300 to 350 soldiers

American President Obama promised during his election campaign to dedicate his efforts to this 'forgotten war'
American President Obama promised during his election campaign to dedicate his efforts to this 'forgotten war' Croatia will send a further fifty soldiers to Afghanistan; it is getting ready to do so, we have learned from a source close to the Foreign Ministry, and there will be 350 next year. And so Croatia, like the vast majority of NATO member countries, is giving a positive answer to US President Barack Obama's initiative to undertake a significant bolstering of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and thereby move to change the current stalemate in the country, and by changing the military balance of power to facilitate the political situation, above all to stabilise the central Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. This is an audacious plan by Obama in which Croatia is taking part in line with its military and economic possibilities, and in keeping with its membership in NATO and common security responsibilities, as defined by NATO.

It was unknown for some time what Obama intended to do, and he announced his intentions in a speech he gave on Tuesday 1 December at the US military academy at West Point, broadcast by US national TV stations. And so he finally - after a month of vacillation - made public his new military strategy for Afghanistan, and demonstrated that he would move forward with a plan that is in many aspects identical to that advocated by General David Petraeus in Iraq. Two years ago General Petraeus convinced former US President George W. Bush to launch a "Surge", by sending a large number of additional troops to Iraq with the aim of settling the situation, and thereby to set the stage for the withdrawal of these, and other American troops stationed in Iraq.

Obama is now moving into Afghanistan with an almost identical strategy. He has formally heeded the request of the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who requested a significant number of new reinforcements, but in fact copied Petraeus' plan in Iraq, which succeeded brilliantly there. Obama, admittedly, has significantly reduced the scope of the goals American troops are to achieve in Afghanistan, has shortened the deadline by which they are to be achieved, and by when the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan should start. But it is, in essence, a copy of what Petraeus, now the commander of the United States Central Command, that is to say the commander of all US troops in the area from eastern Africa, the Middle East to Afghanistan, and thereby also McChrystal's commander, did in Iraq.

And what Petraeus did in Iraq can be seen from how things are going in Iraq now. It was just announced that this November was, by the number of killed Iraqi civilians the most peaceful month in the last six and a half years, since March of 2003, when the US Army invaded Iraq. 88 civilians were killed in various terrorist and other violent actions, which is a significantly lower figure than in previous months, which shows that the situation in settling down, especially in the big cities.

The number of dead civilians in Iraq varies significantly from month to month, depending on whether there is a bomb massacre, but there have been less of these too, and were last recorded only in August and October, while they had previously been almost a daily event. The number of killed US soldiers in Iraq is constantly falling, especially after the Americans completely withdrew from the major cities, and left maintaining security to Iraqi forces. There is one other factor that has contributed to a reduction in US causalities, and that is the fact that there are now much fewer US soldiers in Iraq than there had previously been. It is thanks in fact to the success of the "Surge" that the number of American soldiers, which had during the "Surge" in October of 2007 numbered 166,000, has now dropped to 116,000.

Obama has now approved in Afghanistan what Bush approved in Iraq, that there be a significant increase in the number of US troops in order to settle the situation, defeat the Taliban, and then to leave the job of maintaining security to loyal Afghan authorities, which are to be strengthened in the meantime so that the US soldiers can pull out. Even during the presidential election campaign Obama said he would change the America strategy, and that Iraq would not be in his focus, but rather the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan.

CROATIANS ON PATROL There are currently about 300 Croatian soldiers in Afghanistan, for the most part engaged in training local forces and in security
CROATIANS ON PATROL There are currently about 300 Croatian soldiers in Afghanistan, for the most part engaged in training local forces and in security As soon as he came into the presidency, he approved the reinforcement of American forces in Afghanistan, where there was a little over 50,000 American soldiers this winter, and about the same number of troops from other NATO member countries. As of this winter there has been a bolstering of US troops in Afghanistan, and some more combat units have been deployed there to fight the Taliban to the south and east of the country, and there are currently 68,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan. This summer McChrystal requested significant reinforcements, saying that he could only break the Taliban to the south and east of the country with additional forces, and then leave maintaining security to Afghani forces.

He initially asked for 40,000 additional soldiers, which met with criticism from those political factors in the USA that advocate the speedy withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan, and who warn Obama that he would get bogged down in this war the same way former US President Lyndon Johnson got bogged down in the Vietnam War. Obama did dither quite a bit, but in the end almost entirely accepted McChrystal's request, all in line with Petraeus' concept and strategy. Some additional troops will be deployed to Afghanistan by the end of the year, with another two combat brigades going by the summer, still in the formation process, lacking even their future official insignia, each of which will number somewhere in excess of 15,000 soldiers.

And so the summer of next year should see about 100,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan, that is to say practically double the number there last winter. Three things are expected to happen in parallel. By all accounts the number of American soldiers in Iraq will continue to drop, as the situation continues to settle there, and a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq can be expected after the parliamentary elections in the country next year, the exact date of which has yet to be set. Obama is counting on the NATO member countries increasing the size of their contingents in Afghanistan. And finally, the military and security forces of loyal Afghani forces are expected to grow in strength in the meantime.

The Americans and members of NATO are working intensively on training them, and these forces now number about 95,000 people. There are demands from some American politicians that the number be doubled in the coming year, which is not realistic, and a goal of increasing the force by 50 percent has been set. In Iraq the training program for Iraqi security forces has been done very well, and the Iraqi government now has a respectable force at its disposal to preserve internal order. But Iraq had a tradition of powerful military forces prior to the arrival of the Americans, and it was a country with relatively developed institutions.

With Afghanistan the situation is significantly different, as this society is still largely based on tribal and ethnic divisions, where modern institutions are only in their nascent stage, and where local paramilitary have always been more powerful than a central army. Obama has obviously prepared the international aspect of his new strategy in Afghanistan very well. This can be concluded from a meeting of the foreign ministers of the NATO member countries held last Friday in Brussels.

Obama communicated with the leaders of his chief European allies, to present his new strategy for Afghanistan, but also to see to it that the NATO member countries make significant increases in the total number of NATO troops in Afghanistan, that they too help achieve the plan. And while it was speculated that American allies in NATO, which currently have 38,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, not including American soldiers, could deploy a further 10,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, it was announced in Brussels that the figure would be somewhat lower, about 7,000 troops. But the US administration should be very satisfied with this too.

Not only because this reinforcement will significantly strengthen the NATO contingent in Afghanistan, but also because the promise to send that many soldiers shows that Obama has earned NATO's confidence that his plan has a chance of succeeding. Following the meetings in Brussels new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen commented the meaning of the promise to send new NATO troops. "Deploying a further 30,000 US soldiers and 7,000 additional NATO soldiers will have a powerful effect on the ground, because they will prevent Afghanistan from falling back into the hands of terrorists and extremists. That will not happen. The member countries of NATO will follow their words up with action. As many as 25 countries will deploy additional troops. I would not discuss here what individual countries will do, the representatives of these countries will do so themselves." For the moment it remains unknown how many additional soldiers will be provided by the member countries, but the figure of 7,000 is the result, allegedly of a count of what Rasmussen himself learned in direct contacts with the leaders of member countries. Some countries have yet to reveal their intentions. There was word that significant additional forces are expected from Germany and France, not included in Rasmussen's estimate. There is speculation that they could send a total of 3,500 soldiers, but will wait to make their decisions at least until the end of January, after the international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for 28 January in London. France, moreover, could wait until March to make its announcement, when the country holds its local elections. It is not clear what the situation will be with Turkey, which already has 1,750 soldiers in Afghanistan, and of which additional forces are expected. It should be noted that the majority of NATO member states send soldiers that will participate within equipping and training programs for the Afghan army, while a smaller number of countries will send troops that will also be active in security operations. Only a few countries are willing to send combat troops to Afghanistan to take part in operations against the Taliban in the south and east of the country. One of these rare countries is Great Britain.

GREAT BRITAIN will keep the 1,000 soldiers send to Afghanistan during the presidential elections and send a further 500
GREAT BRITAIN will keep the 1,000 soldiers send to Afghanistan during the presidential elections and send a further 500 Given the scope of the operations and the fact that some NATO units will undertake some security assignments currently carried out by US soldiers and be stationed in sensitive and unstable areas, it can be expected that a large number of them will be faced with combat challenges, even though they were not sent to Afghanistan with that primary mission. In this context the promise shows that Obama has succeeded in convincing the leaders of allied nations that his plan makes sense and has a chance of succeeding. Also important in this same context is Obama's promise that the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan would start in 2011, and that it was not his intention to see US and NATO soldiers remain in the country on the long term. It should be noted that there is quite a measure of scepticism in Europe towards Obama's plan. It is interesting that sceptically coloured warnings have come from Russia, which also agreed to support Obama's effort in Afghanistan by providing logistics support for the operation, allowing additional American and NATO forces to be transferred into Afghanistan and supplied over Russian territory. Some Russian military commanders that led soviet troops in Afghanistan a quarter of a century ago when the USSR occupied the country have warned that there is a major fault in Obama's plan, and that is the assumption that the eventual military stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan will result in a simultaneous political stabilisation on the ground.

That is usually the result in countries in which the internal social and political structure is more advanced than the one functioning in the tribal structure of Afghan society. Based on their experience they claim that this is a crucial difference from, for example, the situation in Iraq. There it can be expected that the country's political structure constructed after the American invasion of 2003 and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime will assume the chief role of government after the thorough withdrawal of US troops from the country begins. In Afghanistan something of this kind is not to be expected, even if additional forces break the military power of the Taliban next year and in the year that follows.

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