Rome '08 Workshop

An Overview of Regions in Crisis: Afghanistan and Iraq 

Ambassador Boguslaw W. Winid

Polish Ambassador to NATO

Ambassador Boguslaw W. Winid


I must admit that it is difficult to address the very comprehensive theme of this panel. It concerns several crisis regions, which are different in terms of background, political and geographical situations, actors involved, and the level of engagement of the international community. In order to make addressing this theme a bit easier, I have decided to focus on Afghanistan, which is a key priority for NATO and for my country. Then I shall say a couple of words on Iraq and, finally, make two general points about Poland’s contribution to crisis response operations. 

 I am not going to talk about progress on the ground in Afghanistan. I think it is visible, and the Bucharest Summit as well as the International Conference to Support Afghanistan that was held in Paris recently proved it so. I am going to outline a few factors that, in my personal view, are critical if NATO and the international community are to succeed there. Although these elements are related specifically to the situation in Afghanistan, I believe they can be applied to other conflict regions as well. 


Enabling Afghan Leadership and Ownership

An Afghan official used to say, “Afghanistan is a strong nation, but a weak state.” That is why our central objective must be to assist the government of Afghanistan in establishing a sustainable and functioning state. We must help Afghans in different areas: in developing and strengthening their institutions, improving security situations, and fostering reconstruction and development efforts. Also, as we support the armed nation-building in this country, the Afghan people must remain at the center of our strategy. 

In assisting Afghans, we must not forget that our presence in Afghanistan is at the request of the government, which sets the tone for key activities and priorities there. Therefore “Afghanization” must be a key word in our mission. We have to do our utmost to understand the Afghan people’s own perspective and see the challenges from the point of view of Kabul, not Warsaw, London, Rome, or Madrid. That is why documents developed by Afghans, such as the Afghan National Development Strategy, must become key guiders as we conduct this mission, and that is why our aid should be channeled through Afghan government structures. This is the best way to achieve sustainable progress and the best value for the money. 

Obviously, a key task for NATO is to assist Afghan authorities in building the hallmarks of an effective and sovereign security sector, namely, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). Only Afghan-led forces can ensure the rule of law in the longer term. 

I believe that ISAF has been advancing on these fronts, especially in training the army. The ANA continues to grow in both size (in 2009 we are aiming for 70,000 trained Afghan soldiers) and capability and is being given greater responsibility in planning and executing operations. We hope it will progressively take over lead security responsibility in the country, starting with the Kabul area during the summer of 2008, as announced by President Karzai. 

Promising signals are also visible in our national area of operation. When my country takes over security responsibility for the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni later in 2008, we will closely cooperate with soldiers from a brigade headquarters and two infantry battalions in the Afghan National Army. 

Nevertheless, let us be under no illusion that progress can be artificially accelerated. We are in for a long haul. However, sooner or later the country will be on its own. Training Afghanistan’s security forces is our best exit strategy. 

Ensuring Necessary Capabilities and Resources for the Mission 

General David Barno, commander of the American forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, once said that successful counterinsurgency in this country was 20% military effort and 80% nonmilitary. I do believe that’s true. As we often say, “There can be no lasting security without development,” and the Taliban can only be defeated in the long term by better governance and more development in Afghanistan, rather than through purely military means. Therefore, we need greater progress on the economic front, in reconstruction, improvements in governance, fighting narcotics, and so on. 

However, the Alliance’s mandate concerns security. As we put a great deal of emphasis on development, reconstruction, and governance, we should not neglect the need to contribute sufficient resources to ensure NATO’s successful operation. We need to fill the remaining troop shortfalls (including OMLTs), provide necessary enablers (helicopters), and, last but not least, for effectiveness of the overall mission, we have to attempt to reduce or eliminate restrictions on the use of national forces. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs and my boss Radoslaw Sikorski once said, “To give without caveats is to give twice.” 

If we are to succeed in Afghanistan, we must continue the military effort. Let me stress that failure to mobilize resources in support of our joint endeavor in this country would show that only unilateral actions matter. It would strike a blow not only at NATO, but at the concept of multilateralism in general. 

Making Operational the Comprehensive Approach Concept

The comprehensive approach has become a buzzword. In its essence, it means that NATO, as an organization, cannot in many cases (and Afghanistan is one of them) achieve its aims all on its own. As a result, we need partners, including other international organizations and NGOs. And we need better coordination among them all to impart greater effectiveness and coherence to stabilization and reconstruction efforts. Of course, those who advocate coordination must also be willing to be coordinated themselves, and I think NATO is ready to do that. 

A leading role in this area needs to be played by the U.N., and I believe that Kai Eide, Special Representative of the UNSG, is the right person to make the difference there. At the Bucharest Summit and at the Paris conference we noticed the willingness of other partners to increase their engagement in Afghanistan. The EU, for instance, is committed to substantially increasing its efforts, and recently decided to double the number of experts working in its police mission in the country. Right now, the most pressing challenge for the entire international community, including NATO, is to assist the Afghans in preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections. 

Improving Our Strategic Communications

If we cannot convince the public and the media that our strategy is working, NATO’s mission is doomed to fail. First, we have to, at a minimum, maintain the support of the Afghan people for our efforts. Second, we must improve the image of the mission among our own publics. Of course, support for ISAF’s mission varies from country to country, but, make no mistake, no country is fully immune from having its public become disillusioned with the involvement of troops in a conflict so far away from national borders. 

 Poland is a good example of this. I must acknowledge that my compatriots’ support for our mission in Afghanistan remains modest, to put it mildly. However, Poles well understand the obligations that stem from being a member of the Alliance, and therefore there are no serious calls for withdrawal of the troops. However, the small and conditional level of support by our public could have a negative impact in the longer term. 

That is why we, as NATO and as nations, need to communicate more effectively our goals, accomplishments, and remaining challenges in Afghanistan to the Europeans and North Americans who foot the bills. We have to enhance our capacity to counter extremist propaganda and, last but not least, we need to train more military public affairs professionals. An important step was taken with the endorsement of the ISAF Strategic Vision and the Comprehensive Strategic Political-Military Plan at the Bucharest Summit. Now, it is time to implement their provisions. 

Because of time constraints I am going to stop talking about Afghanistan now, but I want to acknowledge that there are other important factors that define our level of success in that country. Among them certainly are how to foster good-neighborly relations, especially with Pakistan; how to improve counter-narcotics efforts; and how to promote the political reconciliation process in Afghanistan. 


As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently put it, “Iraq stepped back from the abyss.” Despite the fragility of the situation, there is growing optimism in this country that progress is at last being made in security, thanks to both the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi efforts. Cease-fires in Sadr City and Basra are still holding, and the Iraqi government claims some success in clearing al-Qaeda from the city of Mosul. There is hope that Prime Minister Maliki’s government will push ahead with political reconciliation among Sunni Arabs, Shia, and Kurds while continuing to clamp down on both Sunni and Shia extremists. We can also see more constructive engagement of Iraq’s neighbors and partners in the region. Continuing this approach remains essential to achieving peace and stability in Iraq and in the region as a whole. In addition, provincial elections scheduled for autumn 2008 should be seen as an important milestone in the political process in Iraq. 

We have also witnessed positive changes in the Iraqi province of Diwaniyah, which is still controlled by the Multinational Division Center-South under Polish leadership. We believe that after a long stabilization process that involved close cooperation with the local authorities and the Iraqi Security Forces, the desired level of safety has been achieved. Now, it is time to hand over complete responsibility for the province to its authorities and the Iraqi forces. This process has already been initiated and should be completed in July 2008. This moment will become the beginning of a new reconstruction stage in the province and will influence the situation in all of Iraq. We are very proud that the 8th Iraqi Army Division, which was trained by our forces, is among the best units in the country. 


Previously we decided that having our troops participate in stabilization and peacekeeping operations would become “la specialité de la maison” and an important tool of Polish foreign policy. Thus, my country is playing an increasingly larger role as an important European peacekeeping power in the world. In fact, Polish troops are engaged in each and every region in crisis that we discussed today. We have a growing presence in Afghanistan—recently we deployed an additional 400 people, thus increasing the size of our contingent to 1,600 troops. In August 2008 we are sending eight additional helicopters as well. 

However, our engagement in the coalition force in Iraq is coming to an end. As of October 2008, Poland will pull its remaining 900 troops out of that country. However, we will slightly increase our participation in the NATO Training Mission in Iraq (this is the mission in which the Italian carabinieri team provides training to the Iraqi National Police). 

We are also participating in a major EU-led military operation in eastern Chad and the northeastern area of the Central African Republic. This mission is tasked with providing security in the region, allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid as well as the protection of civilians and U.N. personnel there. The deployment of our soldiers is underway. Once completed, the Polish contingent, with 400 troops and 2 helicopters, will become the second biggest in size only to France’s contingent. A Polish officer has been appointed the deputy commander of the EU mission. 

Finally, Poland continues a long tradition of participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions. Currently, we have 500 soldiers deployed in the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon as well as more than 350 troops in the U.N. Disengagement and Observation Force in the Golan Heights, between Syria and Israel. 

The Reasons Poland Is Committed 

Polish commitment to international peacekeeping is not guided solely by national interest. There are many other factors that influence our decisions: Allied obligations and the readiness to contribute to transatlantic burden-sharing in security and defense, willingness to support our partners in need, contributing to the fight against terrorism, and our strong belief that it is imperative to assist a country in making the transition from failed state to a democracy. In Poland, we also have a historical tradition of men going abroad to fight in other countries’ wars of liberation—“For your freedom and ours.” Our efforts to help Afghans and Iraqis remain true to this tradition. 

Dispersal of Polish Troops in International Peacekeeping Operations 

Poland obviously gives priority to NATO operations; more than half of our troops deployed abroad are participating in Alliance activities. However, as I mentioned, there are Polish soldiers in U.N.-led as well as EU-led missions. In particular, the latter are of increasing importance to us. We perceive the European Union as a second pillar of our security, alongside NATO, and therefore Polish engagement in EU missions is growing. Recently, my country’s authorities decided to join Eurocorps and to make a brigade-size unit available to it. Our soldiers and policemen are also deployed not only in Chad but in EU missions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Afghanistan. We also took part in the operation in Congo in 2006. I think this trend will continue in the future, in Africa, the Middle East, or elsewhere. 

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