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Opinion: Is NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 realistic?

NATO confirmed at its summit in Lisbon that it wanted to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, leaving the Afghan security forces in control. But Deutsche Welle's Ratbil Shamel is skeptical about this aim.

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Right now, the Afghan police and army are not capable of rising to the task. They lack personnel, suitable weapons and adequate training. Moreover, the loyalty of Afghan soldiers and police is questionable. Many are former mujahedeen and they still seem devoted to their erstwhile leaders at times. The deplorable state that Afghanistan’s police and army are in is proof that NATO has failed in its efforts to train them up. A further security risk is the fact that drug abuse among young members of the police and army is rife. Finally, according to observers, the Taliban's influence on the Afghan security forces is growing.

Nonetheless, the NATO leaders at their summit in Lisbon were optimistic about the future. The general gist was that these problems could be solved. They said that training and equipping the Afghan army and police would be a top priority over the next few years. The member states made clear they all wanted to boost efforts to prepare the Afghan security forces for the task ahead. What was new was the confirmation that NATO will not abandon the Afghans to themselves even if it does pull out. Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would still be German soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014.

For the Afghans, NATO's resolution is clearly motivated by domestic politics. The idea is to placate voters in member states who are less and less supportive of NATO's operation in Afghanistan, especially if it does not have a clear end. While the Afghans are supposed to understand that the NATO states will not give up on them. Nobody wants the history books of the future to say that the biggest military alliance of all times failed in its ambitious reconstruction project in Afghanistan.

Ratbil Shamel is the head of Deutsche Welle's Afghan department

Ratbil Shamel is the head of Deutsche Welle's Afghan department

However, anybody who thinks the security issues will be solved by handing over responsibility to the already weak Afghan authorities and security forces is in for an unpleasant shock. Although President Karzai is the greatest advocate of NATO plans to withdraw because he is intent on showing how patriotic and independent he is, most Afghans doubt the army and police will acquire the strength that is necessary to replace the NATO troops over the next three years. They are right to ask how something that did not take place in the past nine years is now supposed to take place…

NATO has not provided any clear ideas so far, but the alliance’s defence ministers will have to speak up soon. They know that they cannot fail in Afghanistan – this would strengthen international Islamist terrorism not only in the Hindu Kush region but all over the world.

Author: Ratbil Shamel (act)
Editor: Priya Esselborn

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