NATO has confirmed its commitment to an orderly end to its mission in Afghanistan and to continuing in an advisory role. But in Kosovo, NATO is considering change to relieve its overstrained troops in the north.
There will be no race for the exit in Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that time and again. But many nations that are part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission are only too eager to pull out their troops as soon as possible.
The last troops are supposed to leave the country by the end of 2014. There are governments, however, that are already speeding up the withdrawal now.
In Brussels on Wednesday (10.10.2012), Rasmussen spoke about the withdrawal, calling it a "careful, deliberate and coordinated process involving all ISAF partners and the Afghan government." It sounded more like wishful thinking than a statement of fact.
German defense minister Thomas de Maiziere also cautioned against a hasty pull-out by each country on its own. "The number of soldiers has to be reduced in a concerted and responsible manner by 2014," de Maiziere said, adding that many would be looking to Germany to be the "leading nation" in this process.
Germany has the regional command in northern Afghanistan and coordinates the troops of 17 countries.
Not giving in to Taliban tactics
One reason governments are becoming more eager to pull out their troops as soon as possible is the growing number of attacks by Afghan soldiers on their instructors and colleagues from ISAF nations.
De Maiziere called the attacks "outrageous and alarming;" he suspects a deliberate tactic by the Taliban, planning to undermine the trust that has been built up so slowly.
But their plan is not going to work, according to Rasmussen: "No one can drive a wedge between the ISAF and our Afghan partners."
And the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reinforced his position: "We will not allow those tactics to divert us from the mission we are dedicated to," he said. "We've come too far, we've fought too many battles, we've spilled too much blood not to finish the job."
No combat mission beyond 2014
After the conclusion of the combat mission at the end of 2014, NATO plans to stay in the country with a new assignment, the International Training and Assistance Mission (ITAM). Instructors and advisors working with this mission will still be protected by the military though. One option is to organize the protection centrally, and not according to the separate national contingents. That already happens with medical services and some logistic tasks.
De Maiziere stressed that for such a mission, the NATO would definitely need the invitation of the Afghan government. Furthermore, a mandate from the UN Security Council will be pursued.
German troops in Kosovo feel overburdened
Another topic at the NATO meeting was on the agenda at the request of the Germans: the state of the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR. De Maiziere said the German, Austrian and Italian troops stationed there were constantly overburdened, and had regularly to rely on reserve forces.
He suggested moving troops from the more peaceful south to the troublesome north - but this requires a formal NATO decision. De Maiziere also criticized the fact that "NATO soldiers have become the first instance to deal with all problems, when really they should only be third in line."
The first instance would normally be the Kosovo police, then the European police mission EULEX - and only after that should come the NATO troops.
Apparently, de Maiziere's complaints were heard. Rasmussen agreed to look into a redeployment of troops in Kosovo.