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Tony's Top Ten

Highlights, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Visit & Report

2-7 Sept 07


by Tony Prudori, editor,


A delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's Defence and Security Committee visited Afghanistan, as well as neighbouring Tajikistan, on September 2-7, 2007.  The group spent time speaking to NATO, ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom commanders, visited Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT's) in Panjsher (US) and Lashkar Gah (UK), and spoke to Afghan politicians and officials.  Here's the news release the group issued after their visit, and here's the report the delegation prepared (also downloadable in Word format). 


First, a couple of overall assessment highlights:


"Most observers agreed that the Afghan population remained, in large majority, 'on the fence,' unconvinced about joining the 15% on either political end of the spectrum strongly supporting either the insurgency or the central government.  Getting this large majority of mostly undecided Afghans to strongly support the central government and the new constitutional order will be critical.  Success in Afghanistan is possible, the delegation concluded; more progress is being made there every day, with tangible results for the Afghan people on a number of levels.  However, in order to ensure that NATO fully delivers on its commitment to Afghanistan in the most effective manner, the Alliance must ensure that it develops and implements a thorough, detailed, consensus strategic vision for its involvement in Afghanistan in order to map out and properly resource its efforts."


"At the tactical level, it was clear that ISAF forces were more than capable of clearing any given area of insurgents.  However, ISAF did not have enough forces to 'backfill' and hold a cleared area after a successful operation.  Thus, as NATO forces left for their next operation, insurgents often returned to the area.  Local populations, fearing consequences on the return of insurgent forces, were thus unable to commit to supporting the efforts of ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan (GOA). The delegation noted that the problem of insufficient personnel to hold cleared areas in Afghanistan could only be resolved through two means (or some combination thereof):  significantly more international forces, or a greater number of more effective Afghan forces.  Under current political circumstances, the provision of large numbers of additional NATO forces would appear unlikely, despite ISAF's persuasive rationale. Most interlocutors therefore suggested that the most important effort was in training and equipping Afghan National Security Forces.  This engendered a critical need for the deployment of additional Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLTs) - teams of trainers who are embedded with Afghan units - in order to speed the development of the Afghan National Security Forces. "


Here are the top ten "tidbits" that intrigued me from the report - as always, feedback, good or otherwise, always welcome.


10)  Not Just Troops & Cops

"Problems with the ANP (Afghan National Police), however, were only part of the several inter-related difficulties facing the Afghan justice sector, the delegation learned.  Police forces are by definition reliant on a legal justice system as well as a proper penitentiary system to successfully carry out their work.  Neither is currently available in Afghanistan.  The delegation learned that only 5 to 10 % of cases are handled by the formal judicial system.  The weak link in this area continues to be a lack of qualified civil servants such as prosecutors and judges; many of those who had such skills left Afghanistan and have not returned.  The delegation was dismayed to hear that recent surveys showed that 90% of the Afghan public believed obtaining governmental services would require a bribe 50% of the time."


9)  AFG Want Their Their Own Air

"The Chairman of the (Afghanistan) Defence Committee, Mr.  Noorul Haq Ulumi, stated that major benchmarks in training of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) would be reached on schedule.  He argued that the ANA (Afghan National Army) should be provided with its own air assets in order to control its own airspace and provide air support to its troops; that way, should civilian casualties arise, they would not be the fault of NATO."


8)  PRT (1) CO's Fund:  Pro & Con

"The US-led (Panjsher) PRT is headed by a US State Department civilian, by agreement with local authorities, and in order to avoid heightened local sensibilities to any appearance of military occupation or invasion .... The success of the Panjsher PRT was attributed to several factors, including the fairly homogeneous Tajik provincial population.  In addition, the PRT commander in Panjsher praised the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funding mechanism, stating that it was a very effective tool to cut through red tape and quickly fund critical, high-impact projects ....  Leaders of the British-led PRT in Lashkar Gah were less enthusiastic about CERP funding, describing it as potentially leading to unwise, unsustainable projects."


7)  PRT (2):  Brits Get 'Er Done

"The British-led Lashkar Gah PRT was enacting a "Comprehensive Approach," which went somewhat beyond the mandate provided to ISAF by the North Atlantic Council (NAC), which mentions security, reconstruction and development and governance, but only gives primary responsibility to ISAF forces for security.  The delegation learned that the comprehensive approach, which involved the use of all aspects and capabilities of Allied governments (military, aid, technical assistance, intelligence sharing, diplomatic pressure, etc. ) to achieve the task at hand, had been blocked at the NAC by a lack of consensus, with some nations contending that the reconstruction activities that such an approach implied should not be part of NATO's competencies.  The delegation observed first hand, however, the critical need for ISAF forces to contribute to reconstruction efforts and to strengthen governance in Afghanistan and learned that many other nations besides the UK had recognized this need and made important efforts in this area ....  The leadership of the Lashkar Gah PRT also explained the value of training ANP forces.  Several very successful military operations had been undertaken in their area of responsibility this year, with Allied forces clearing important territory of insurgents.  However, the limited number of personnel available, and the dearth of effective ANP personnel to move in and consolidate the gains made by NATO forces meant that insurgents were able to return to previously cleared areas.  For this reason, and because of the lack of a co-ordinated NATO police training effort (due to a lack of consensus among NATO member states on the issue), the UK had decided to get on with it and begin providing military trainers for the local police forces to provide basic instruction in the most essential policing tasks."


6)  PRT (3):  Best Practices Not Shared

"PRTs, which are led by individual countries or groups of countries, do not yet have a standard approach to their activities.  The delegation was told that co-ordinating best practices among different PRTs, in order to maximize their effectiveness, faced political obstacles in Brussels.  An illustrative example the delegation learned about was the occasion on which one NATO country blocked the publication of the minutes of a recent PRT conference on best practices, because of concern that the type of development and reconstruction work represented by PRTs is 'not what NATO should be doing.'  "


5)  Take That, Senlis!

"On the question of the counter-narcotics effort, the much-publicized proposals from the Canadian NGO the Senlis Council, which involved the introduction of controlled, legal poppy cultivation for medical purposed, were described as unrealistic for Afghanistan.  Poppy production was much too high, the price difference between legal and black market poppy was too different, and control of the geographic areas involved was still not feasible, it was argued.  In addition, the legalization of poppy cultivation flew in the face of both legal and religious prohibitions currently in place on its cultivation.  A more balanced approach of strengthening incentives to farmers to choose licit crops, and increasing the risk to farmers who grow poppies was proposed.  ISAF's role in support of the CN effort also proved to be subject to varying interpretations."


4)  Caveats Continue

"National caveats overall had been significantly reduced since the Riga summit, and nations with forces in the south, where most of the heavy fighting was taking place, did not have significant restrictions.  However, General McNeill, COMISAF, stated that the 'in extremis' pledge of assistance announced at Riga (whereby nations with national caveats agreed to allow their forces to come to the aid of NATO forces in an emergency -- this agreement was not spelled out in public documents) had not yet been tested; in such cases, he had thus far called in US forces instead.   McNeill called remaining caveats 'vexing,' stating that they still hampered his ability to concentrate military mass when needed, with sufficient speed to make a difference.  The delegation noted that Portuguese rapid-reaction forces had no caveats and were performing well."


3)  Taliban's Tactics in Civilian Deaths

"The delegation observed a number of measures taken to reduce civilian casualties due to the use of air power in Afghanistan.  ISAF's Commander had issued guidance requiring consideration of whether a response was 'proportionate and discriminate', even if within the Rules of Engagement (RoE) .... These measures, however, faced three major challenges by the enemy:  first, Taliban fighters were forcing innocent civilians to remain, hidden, in a location they knew would be targeted.  Second, insurgents were conducting a disinformation campaign, for example claiming innocent victims when there were none, or disarming killed insurgents and claiming them as civilian casualties.  Third, NATO simply didn't have enough (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets to maximize their utility in theatre."


2)  IS&R:  NATO Eyeing Own UAVs?

"The delegation was also informed of the need for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, critical for knowledge of the battlespace  ....  Although French, German and Italian ISR assets had been performing well, they did not adequately address ISAF's needs - in part because of national caveats ....  The delegation learned, for instance, that German Tornado reconnaissance planes would not provide intelligence in real time, in order to abide by a national caveat preventing their direct support of combat operations  ....  NATO had therefore developed a reliance on ISR assets provided by US Central Command, a problem because these assets naturally respond in the first instance to US priorities, and thus often primarily for ongoing operations in Iraq.   The delegation was interested to learn that NATO was currently considering the common funding of a NATO Predator capability, as well as the analytical capability to support it."


1)  Choppers:  "Coin of the Realm"

"Helicopters were described as 'the coin of the realm' in the difficult terrain of Afghanistan, and the delegation learned that the insufficient number of helicopters at NATO's disposal there continued to plague the mission .... The delegation was told that helicopters capable of operating in the Afghan environment did exist in five to seven NATO member state inventories, along with the capacity to provide them, but had not been deployed.  Particularly urgent was the need to find a replacement for the US helicopter airbridge for Kandahar, which had been scheduled to depart in December but had been extended by six months, twice, to January 2008 ....  General McNeill, COMISAF, suggested that a possible role for common-funded contracted airlift, similar to what the US was using in the east of Afghanistan, might alleviate this situation by allowing military aircraft to focus on moving personnel while contracted aircraft could move supplies.  However, such a possibility had yet to be agreed in Brussels."



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