Rome '08 Workshop

Dealing with Regions in Crisis: The Case of Afghanistan 

Ambassador Stewart Eldon CMG OBE

British Ambassador to NATO 

Ambassador Stewart Eldon

Recently Des Browne gave you a British view of NATO transformation and the way we can ensure that the Alliance becomes an efficient and effective provider of security in the 21st century. In these brief remarks I will move from the strategic to the operational, concentrating primarily on Afghanistan. 


The first point I’d like to make is that, as with so many of our current crises, there is no purely military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. To achieve success, the whole international community must mobilize together. The spectrum ranges from NATO, the hard end of security, through the EU and national contributions in areas such as governance, the fight against corruption, and the rule of law, to the U.N., NGOs and other development agencies. In short, we need a comprehensive approach, which must encompass the region as well as just Afghanistan. 

The second thing I want to say in this forum is that we must be honest about what we are doing. In essence, the international community is engaged in support of the government of Afghanistan in a major counterinsurgency strategy. The Afghans must lead—it is, after all, their country—but the more we can tailor our support behind the government’s efforts to exercise its authority fully throughout its territory, the more successful we will be. 


Against this scenario, it is sometimes tempting to focus exclusively on the security aspects of the situation—certainly the media tends to encourage this and not to report on the real successes in other areas. However, despite the casualties we and others suffered recently, the security situation in Afghanistan has improved. The Taleban’s leadership has been targeted successfully, and recent operations in Southern Helmand severely disrupted their training and lines of communication. 

This has had two principal effects. First, the insurgents’ sphere of influence has been reduced. Nine-tenths of the security incidents are now confined to one-tenth of the country, and the rest is relatively peaceful. Second, and crucial in this context, the Taliban’s ambition has been reduced from insurgency to terrorism. Increasingly their focus is now on intimidating Afghan communities, coercing the vulnerable into becoming suicide bombers, and carrying out brutal and indiscriminate attacks on the international community and, above all, ordinary Afghans. These tactics pose a different but serious challenge, and we must adjust our efforts to deal with them. As with all counterinsurgencies, the progression of clear, hold, and build should be followed. 

This implies establishing a long-term and comprehensive framework for security, political, social, and economic development in support of Afghanistan. It implies increasing Afghan leadership. And it implies increasing support where the Afghans need it most. 


The first key element relates to the Afghan Security Forces. Training of the Afghan Army is going well, and the army is now involved in a leading role in over 80% of NATO’s operations. Over the next few months we will need to discuss with the Afghans whether long-term targets for the size of the Afghan National Army are correct and, if not, whether a larger force (for example, of 100,000) is supportable over the longer term. 

The Afghan Police is a second critical element and ultimately more important in terms of lasting stability. Here the picture is less good. With current resources the first round of police training under the U.S.-sponsored district development program will not be completed until 2013. This is too late, and more resources are needed. We very much welcome the fact that Italy and other governments are looking at what more they can do to help. The efforts of the EU Police Mission are also critical, focused on national policing standards, higher-level training, and the rule of law. 

To hold and build, governance and development are essential. These areas stray far outside NATO’s mandate, but support, for example, from the PRTs, will be essential to ensure sustainable local government structures and development. We need to get the right people in place—Gordon Brown has proposed establishing a corps of deployable civilians to help in conflict and post-conflict environments. An important balance must be struck between direct aid delivery (for example, for reconstruction) and more strategic development activities implemented through Afghan structures. NGOs and bilateral donors also have important roles to play and need to feel out their relationship with the military. In due course, we need to think through whether PRTs are the most appropriate mechanisms for aid delivery in areas where security permits a more traditional approach. 


Although I cannot do justice to the complexities of this subject in the time available, I do want to cover two specific issues: Counternarcotics (CN) and the delivery of civil effect in a counterinsurgency (COIN) context. 

CN is vitally important in an Afghan context. The links between drug traffickers and the insurgency are painfully clear: the Taleban rely on drug money to finance a high proportion of their operations. The relevance to NATO’s role is also obvious. CN strategy is a long-term business with many strands and must remain under Afghan lead. But NATO is now considering what more it might do to support the Afghan National Drugs Strategy in terms of, for example, targeting laboratories that produce material to feed Taleban coffers. 

Each country has its own approach to delivering civil effect. In eastern Afghanistan the U.S. has over many years built up a sophisticated approach to reconstruction and development based on a military backbone of PRTs and other enablers. This is working well, not least because a relatively limited geographical spread and (by Afghan standards) a relatively sophisticated infrastructure make it easier to achieve results. It also helps that traditionally U.S. military commanders have had ready access to development and reconstruction funds. 

The U.K. approach shares all the basic principles of COIN but differs in some practical respects. In Regional Command-South (RC-S) the territory is larger, less populated, and less developed; central government has had little, if any, influence. In the British context, reconstruction money is delivered through international development mechanisms rather than through the military, although in many cases the military deliver, and we have just announced the deployment of an extra troop of Royal Engineers to support our PRT in Lashkar Gah by undertaking quick-impact projects in support of the local community. In addition, we will attach civil-military cooperation officers to each of our battle groups and will form military stabilization teams on the model of the ad hoc team that we deployed with great success in the wake of the reoccupation of Musa Qala. 

We have also appointed a two-star civilian to head the PRT in Lashkar Gah and to take command of British assets in Helmand (except insofar as they are dedicated to ISAF and remain under the NATO military command chain). The objective is to achieve more coherent delivery of civil effect against the background of a difficult security situation. I hope Roger Weissinger-Baylon will invite me back next year to tell you whether we got it right. 


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