As the NATO summit in Bucharest draws to a conclusion, leaders have reiterated their commitment for Afghanistan. Apart from pledges from certain countries, especially France to send troops to Afghanistan, the leaders at the summit were also united on training afghan security forces and increasing the reconstruction work.
Afghan President Karzai with French President Sarkozy
Afghanistan is one of the most ambitious and challenging missions for the NATO. But what does its future look like? NATO has been increasingly facing the question in recent years. The alliance has wrapped up a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest confirming a firm and long term commitment to Afghanistan.
An estimated 47,000 troops from 39 countries are currently serving under the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The US has the biggest contingent with 19,000 troops. They are largely deployed in the east and south of the country.
More Troops for Afghanistan
During the NATO summit, the US appealed to the other nations to send more troops to Afghanistan to support the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency. In response, several countries have offered to send troops. But the biggest contribution came from France, which announced that it would send a 700-strong battalion to eastern Afghanistan. The move was widely welcomed by the NATO nations and especially by Canada, which had threatened to withdraw from Afghanistan unless other allies provide troops.
Stephen Harper, the foreign minister of Canada, said: “The French are taking on a significant – not just in terms of numbers – but they are taking on a significantly enhanced security burden.”
Afghan Army to reach 80,000 troops
Hungary plans to send up to 100 more troops to Afghanistan. Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic have also offered to contribute. Poland has reportedly promised to send eight badly needed helicopters and 400 extra troops. While Italy, Romania and Greece have offered to train units of Afghan security forces, one of the most pressing requirements, according to NATO secretary general Jaap De Hoop Scheffer:
“We have in Bucharest chartered out the future of this operation with one clear goal: to move toward a transition phase, where the Afghan government and people can take the lead in providing for their own security.”
An estimated 60,000 afghan troops have been trained by NATO forces so far. The alliance aims to reach a target of 80,000 by 2010. For Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the progress of the security forces so far is quite evident: “Afghanistan is now better placed to take responsibility for its own security. In August, Afghanistan will take over the responsibility of security in Kabul.”
The other issue discussed during the summit was developing a comprehensive strategy which combines military with reconstruction efforts. Germany has called on the alliance to develop a stronger reconstruction component in order to better carry out the transatlantic alliance’s military mission. German defense minister Franz Josef Jung explains:
“We have developed a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan, which means we need security plus development in the reconstruction of the country. We have to win the confidence of the population to become successful. “
Another key development at the summit was an agreement by Russia to allow NATO supplies for Afghanistan to cross Russian territory. Russia has agreed to let NATO use its land to deliver non-lethal supplies. However the agreement doesn’t include troops or air transit arrangements, which were initially sought by the NATO.