Shortly after the September 11 attacks in the US, NATO-led forces overthrew theTaliban regime in Afghanistan. Since then NATO has been involved in Afghanistan but support is dwindling among the member states. As such, the Afghanistan mission will be under scrutiny at the Bukarest summit beginning on Wednesday.
German troops in Afghanistan
The United States of America are widely considered to be the driving force within NATO, just as 16,000 US troops make up the largest contingent within the International Security Assistance Force -- or ISAF -- in Afghanistan. They are in charge of ensuring law and order in the capital, Kabul, as well as in eastern Afghanistan.
Since 2001, US troops have been fighting Taliban forces, rebels and local warlords in the South and along the border to Pakistan. So far more than 600 US soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and the US State Department continues to reiterate the importance of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice puts it:
"The alliance has a very clear, commonly shared view that the NATO mission -- on which NATO agreed in consensus -- is an essential part of NATO assignment and it must be successful."
Possibility of civil war
Otherwise, Afghanistan would witness a bloody civil war and a possible return to Taliban rule, Rice warns. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has to constantly wrangle with the 14 ISAF countries in his efforts to get more troops. According to Scheffer, despite the ISAF's present troop strength of 43,000 - 7,000 more troops are sorely needed. And this while the political will to support the mission is apparently on the decline:
"Either this country -- as a whole -- will be won or it will be lost. It's not solely the job of the NATO in Brussels to make this point clear, but also the 26 member states are politically responsible."
The Netherlands, Britain, Denmark and Canada have already sent troops to the embattled South. But Canada is threatening to withdraw its troops if no other country is willing to send a further 1,000 troops as reinforcements. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes a similar plea:
"We believe that the alliance has an obligation to deliver on that because this is a NATO mission -- this is not a Canadian mission, or a Danish mission, or an American mission -- it's a NATO mission."
Call for further troops
Though the call for further troops was mainly directed at Spain, Italy and Germany, US President George W. Bush has had to admit that this was not politically feasible for Germany at the present moment. As such, he does not intend to press this issue at the NATO summit in Bukarest.
On the other hand, diplomats are of the opinion that the issue will keep coming up, since the military situation in Afghanistan has remained the same. The US have already asked Germany to deploy rapid response forces in the whole of Afghanistan and in higher numbers. However, the German government has declined to take away troops from the North and send them to the embattled South -- and will certainly not send any more troops to Afghanistan. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made this clear while visiting German Army commanders last March:
"I don't think it's a good idea to argue about which mission is more hazardous. Those deployed in Afghanistan's North know that their job is anything but a cakewalk. That's why we all should focus on achieving overall success in Afghanistan. From that point of view, I believe that Germany's contribution is comprehensive and important."
New strategy needed
Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, will also be present at the NATO summit in Bukarest. He is hoping for consensus on how to improve and strengthen NATO's strategy in Afghanistan. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has already signalled that he would send more troops if the military strategy was reviewed. NATO and the European Union are intent on improving the training of the Afghan army -- some 60,000 soldiers have already been trained. The idea is that it's the Afghan army which would -- or should -- take over the responsibility for the security situation in the long run. In which case, NATO-led ISAF forces could return home. But no-one knows when that day will come.