Istanbul '09 Workshop

Afghanistan and Pakistan-Looking Ahead

Admiral Luciano Zappata
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation

Admiral Luciano Zappata


My perspective on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is based on my experience as Deputy Commander of Allied Command Transformation, the NATO HQ that is responsible for leading military transformation, enhancing interoperability, and supporting NATO missions and operations. We just completed the Multiple Futures Project (MFP), which explores the question of future threats and challenges. While it is impossible to make predictions, we must try and anticipate future strategic and operational contexts.

Many elements of the reality we face today in operations will remain in the future. The MFP has confirmed the importance of working in strategic anticipation to avoid having regional crises and failed states spill over and become sources of threats to the values and populations of the Alliance. The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan highlights the importance of working in strategic anticipation. At the same time, however, we must also be reactive and adaptive in order to flexibly and quickly respond to challenges that emerge on the field. That is why we are committed to making use of a lessons- learned process that provides operational feedback across the full spectrum of activities, and we do it at the NATO Joint Analysis Lessons Learned Center in Portugal.


We live in an increasingly global and interconnected world. Nowadays, emerging challenges do not affect only individual countries or regions, but all of us in the international community. Global challenges demand global responses; NATO will have to clarify further its roles and responsibilities in the security environment. But one thing is certain: The relationship with other international actors will increase dramatically in importance and NATO will rely even more on the successful implementation of a comprehensive, cooperative, and interagency approach to security, making military strength only one component of a much larger capability set. The lack of an established comprehensive approach cannot be an excuse to justify the problems we have. We must also do our homework. The issue is that we must learn to network with others and implement an interagency model that takes into account different interests and cultures.

Being Flexible

At Allied Command Transformation we have conducted successfully an experiment to build a civil-military fusion center and a civil-military overview to share information among various actors. One of the lessons learned from this experience is that, as NATO, we must be flexible and ready to integrate in non-military contexts as well as to lead interagency initiatives, depending on the situation and the requirements. At the military transformational level, our work in Afghanistan has underlined the need to focus our action on interoperability issues, training and education, strategic communication, and the fielding of capabilities.

There is one strategic constant in this type of security environment. Because we dominate in the conventional areas of warfare, our adversaries, who are very adaptable and difficult to identify, focus on our perceived weaknesses and confront us using irregular warfare tactics. In order to succeed we need a changed mindset, and new approaches, doctrines, strategies, and concepts. Conventional, irregular, and policing capabilities need to be integrated operationally and tactically at the lowest possible level. Forces must be expeditionary, sustainable, flexible, and adaptable—they need robust command and control structures and the modus operandi needs to become increasingly decentralized.

Maintaining the Human Element

The human element in this type of environment is also key to success. The mindset and judgment of soldiers in the field are as important as their knowledge of procedures and tactics. This includes ethical and moral dimensions: Deployed forces are expected to perform non-combat missions aimed at winning the loyalty and support of local populations while facing an ample spectrum of combat situations at various degrees of intensity and tempo. This is a challenge in strategic communication. In fact, it is important to win the “battle of the narrative,” but we must also be mindful of our conduct as we go about winning “the hearts and minds” of the population. Being the “good guys” means more than just saying the right words. We must strive to match our words with our behavior, for what we do as much as for what we say.

The human element also has fundamental implications in the training and education of our forces as well as in the training of indigenous security forces. In this regard, NATO has decided to establish the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan in order to help Afghans grow, but not in order for us to do their job. The many initiatives at the national and NATO levels are often fragmented and not well coordinated. We need to improve the way we make use of existing resources and available technologies, a key area. In NATO, we are reviewing our organization and processes to be more efficient and to respond to the needs of a changing environment.

Maintaining Ambition and Capabilities

As the Alliance explores new territories in a strategic context in which the distinction between defense and security is not clear-cut, we have to be coherent and compelling regarding our level of ambition and the capabilities required. This is true today and will be even more so in the future. We need to match ambition with capability. It is a problem of budget, but the military also has to adapt in order to improve the way it defines requirements and ensures that forces and systems are interoperable.

In Afghanistan, we are working to fix interoperability problems as coalitions that are different in quality and standards work together at a very low tactical level. But the real issue is that we must plan for interoperability from the beginning of the capability development process. Another problem is that fielding capabilities takes too long. Because of this, we are not in a position to provide timely responses to operational needs. Moreover, changes in requirements and views during long programs create management, cost, and risk issues that eventually end up delivering solutions that do not meet users’ needs.


The next panel will discuss industry involvement; I am convinced that we must partner with industry as early and as often as possible in order to field capabilities faster, develop solutions closer to users’ requirements, explore potentially disruptive technologies, and improve interoperability. This can be done in various ways; in fact we are building a framework in which we exchange information, experiment with ideas, and explore technologies. It can really help. In this regard, on 8–9 October, we will hold Industry Day in Washington, D.C.

Adapting to answer all of the challenges requires adjusting doctrine, operational guidance, training and education, equipment, and organizational structures. It is a monumental job, and most organizations’ first impulse is to resist change. But for NATO to be successful, the transformational agenda needs to have a high priority.

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