December 6, 2003
While NATO has made the political decision to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF - an Alliance-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan) beyond the capital Kabul, it is struggling to acquire the necessary hardware. For example, the ISAF currently has only three helicopters (despite promises of deliveries from Belgium and Greece) but it needs about a dozen.
NATO's senior military officer publicly expressed his concern about the shortfall back in mid-November, stressing in particular the need for intelligence staff in addition to the helicopters. The NATO Secretary General is demanding that member defense ministers offer 14 helicopters and about 400 specialist troops to the NATO force of 5,700 in Kabul. However, everyone has a good excuse.
Belgium's helicopters could not safely operate in Afghanistan for ``technical reasons", Greece claims that all its aircraft are needed to protect the 2004 Olympics and France is thinly stretched with it's African commitments.
The UN-mandated peacekeeping force works in liaison with Afghan authorities, but is currently confined to Kabul. German troops have set up a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in the northern town of Kunduz, which should be fully operational by the end of 2003. NATO could also deploy small mobile units across the country, particular for security missions during the elections next year.
In addition to the Kunduz mission, NATO is considering "taking on up to five other PRT's". The UN wants to gradually expand it's coverage to more provincial cities and up to 17 could be included in the plans. The ISAF is NATO's first-ever mission outside its traditional European theater of operations and only started in mid-August.
Britain's browbeating worked on NATO's defense ministers at a meeting in Brussels, with member nations agreeing to send more helicopters and personnel to support the Afghanistan mission. NATO asked for five larger utility and three light utility helicopters, plus three attack helicopters. The alliance even considered an eventual takeover of the US-led hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Norway will send a mechanized company to provide security for the voter registration efforts prior to the 2004 elections and the Czech Republic would deploy 150 troops. Iceland will send 25 personnel to help with the security of Kabul airport while Belgium will allocate air traffic controllers. Spain and Turkey will send intelligence personnel. - Adam Geibel