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38116

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Go big, go bold and get it done

Tip-toeing won't work, says LEWIS Mac KENZIE. We need another 30,000 NATO troops to protect Afghans while they get their country on its feet

Lewis Mac Kenzie, Globe & Mail, 22 Nov 06

Article Link

 

In 1999, I was an outspoken critic of NATO's ill-conceived bombing campaign against Serbia/Kosovo. For anyone playing close attention to the events leading up to the campaign, it was pretty obvious that the independence-seeking Kosovo Liberation Army -- which, according to the CIA, was a terrorist organization -- and its retained U.S.-based, public-relations support had played the West like a Stradivarius. This culminated with NATO volunteering to be the KLA's air force.

 

A few months after the negotiated end to the bombing, my branding as an opponent to NATO's intervention got me invited to a debate in the U.S. with General Wesley Clark, the NATO commander in charge of the campaign, regarding the wisdom of NATO's actions.

 

Following the debate, Gen. Clarke shared a story that still resonates today regarding our mission in Afghanistan. He recalled that mid-way through the bombing campaign, he was exchanging small talk with Greece's ambassador to NATO. Gen. Clark opined to the ambassador, "This must be quite difficult for you, as I understand there is a good deal of controversy in your country regarding our bombing of Serbia." Without hesitation, the ambassador replied, "No, Gen. Clarke, there is no controversy. We are all against the bombing!" He could have gone on to say (unnecessary, considering his audience): "But we are a member of NATO and that means you can rely on us even if we don't agree with the mission."

 

Fast forward to today and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's first operation involving combat inside or outside of Europe. No one has rewritten Article 5 of NATO's Charter since April 4, 1949. It still reads, in part: "The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force . . ."

 

Article 5 was invoked by NATO's leadership following the attacks of 9/11, and as required by the same article, the decision to use armed force was reported to and endorsed by the United Nation's Security Council.

 

NATO now finds itself fighting a major counterinsurgency campaign in three of the 34 Afghanistan provinces, one of which, Kandahar, is the responsibility of our Canadian battle group. With an area half the size of Nova Scotia, an all-too-modest number of Canadian troops are not just trying to keep the lid on the insurgency, they are trying to defeat it.

 

To make matters worse, they have a porous border with Pakistan staring them in the face. Replacements for Taliban killed in Afghanistan don't even need to sneak across the border through the mountain passes. They drive across in the backs of trucks with their kit in broad daylight.

 

General David Richards, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, expressed his dismay with the resources at his disposal shortly after taking command in August. He quite rightly indicated he had no reserve capacity to exploit or secure successes on the battlefield and requested an additional 2,500 NATO troops be provided at the earliest opportunity.

 

As someone who has watched each and every UN mission since the end of the Cold War -- in Croatia, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor etc. -- stumble, and in all too many cases, fail due to overly optimistic best-case scenarios and subsequent undermanning and underbudgeting of the UN force, followed by hesitant and inadequate reinforcement as the mission became mired, I am surprised Gen. Richard's request was so modest. Perhaps he hoped that once the reinforcement flow was kick started, it could be increased. Other than Poland, no NATO member raised its hand to help in any significant way. On the contrary, some nations ignored the example mentioned above that was set by Greece and treated the requirements of Article 5 as if they were multiple choice. Select what you feel like, ignore the rest.

 

"Sure, we will come to Afghanistan but don't ask us to leave our comfortable and safe firm base after the sun goes down."

 

Or, "Sure, our troops will be there shoulder to shoulder with the rest of you, just don't ask us to participate in any combat actions!"

 

Mind you, at least the countries that insist on the so-called caveats are actually in Afghanistan, which is more than you can say for the NATO leaders with at least three-quarters of a billion troops at their disposal who refuse to respond to the Alliance's pleas for help while troops from across the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel bear the brunt of a fight with inadequate resources.

 

In my opinion, based on a recent visit to Afghanistan and too many years operating with chronically undermanned UN forces, Gen. Richards does not need 2,500 more soldiers. He needs to double his force with 30,000 more front-line troops. Adequate headquarters are already on the ground to look after a massive infusion of combat power "outside the wire." If we want to protect the local Afghans while they reconstruct their country and create their army and local and national police forces, we can't tip-toe toward a solution.

 

The time has come to be bold. With NATO's future hanging in the balance, fence-sitting NATO partners have to be convinced, coerced, intimidated to live up to their end of the contract they signed when they joined during more peaceful times. Failure to do so will signal the end of a 57-year-old alliance that failed when faced with its first real test in the field.

 

Retired major-general Lewis Mac Kenzie was the first commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.

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