NATO sees no reason for to change its transition strategy in Afghanistan after a series of Taliban attacks over the weekend. Instead, the western alliance praised Afghan security forces for their response to the assault.
The Afghan security forces reacted quickly and effectively, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told a news briefing in Brussels. "The attacks were planned, they were coordinated, they grabbed the headlines, but they didn't cause mass casualties," Lungescu said "The Afghan security forces dealt with the situation, they defeated the attacks and they did it largely on their own."
The series of attacks lasted about 18 hours and was aimed at government buildings and Camp Warehouse, which houses NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) as well as the German and several other western embassies. No staff were injured and damage to the buildings was minor. Afghan security forces killed several dozen attackers; the assault also left several Afghan soldiers, police and civilians dead. Lungesco said the security forces' competence is "improving daily"; this recent mission against the Taliban has proven "their increasing ability to fight effectively," she said.
NATO needs a positive assessment
Not everyone shares her optimism though. Local diplomats and security experts were shocked that the Taliban fighters managed to first pass checkpoints undetected and then stage coordinated attacks in different places.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai blames intelligence failures on both sides but "particularly" on the part of NATO forces.
Critical evaluations are the last thing NATO needs at the moment: the alliance plans to withdraw its more than 100.000 troops by the end of 2014, and a stable environment would be desirable in the process. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has repeatedly said a withdrawal should not be dictated by the calendar but should depend on how well the Afghans can provide for their own security.
But for domestic political reasons, ISAF's member states are not prepared to back down on the transition timeline. That is true for the US, where the war is immensely unpopular among the population and for Germany as well.
"No change," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Monday. Preparations for the withdrawal have begun; it will proceed "as planned," he said. On Sunday, the German foreign minister argued that postponing the West's troop withdrawal would only play into the Taliban's hands. The West won't give in to terrorist violence, he said, but will continue to prepare for the handover of responsibility to Afghan security forces, he told German television.
Commitments of little value
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned attacks in Kabul that he said were hitting civilians more than anyone else. "We must strengthen the Afghan forces' skills in fighting terrorism," he said Monday in Brussels.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reaffirmed EU support of the Afghan government and its efforts in "consolidating stability and democracy."
When push comes to shove, these might just be empty words. Military leaders have long warned of handing over security responsibility to the Afghans too soon. But at the moment, the West clearly wishes to end this costly war as quickly as possible.
Author: Cristoph Hasselbach/ db
Editor: Andreas Illmer / sgb