Monday, December 17, 2007

Afstan: How the Aussies talk about certain NATO members

The Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese, in his new blog, is bluntly critical of how the government has been dealing with NATO allies:

Mr. MacKay has told reporters the Canadian government accepts that it may be “prohibitive for some in the alliance to contribute troops” so Canada is going to ask for other types of contributions instead.

His comments signal an abrupt change of course. For more than a year Mr. MacKay and other government officials have been pushing NATO allies to cough up more combat troops to help ease the load in Kandahar province.

The real question, however, is why has Canada now changed that position?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the ‘Shame Game’ Mr. MacKay and others in government have been playing with Canada’s NATO allies has backfired?

Here are the behind-the-scenes details as they were explained to me by NATO officers. This year and last year the Harper government went into overtime crapping on its NATO allies for not providing additional soldiers to the Afghan mission. Gordon O’Connor, Mr. MacKay and Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier were high profile in the media dumping on various countries for not pulling their weight.

It is true that some in the alliance were shunning combat, but publicly slamming your allies is not how diplomacy works.

You don’t label contributing nations to the Afghanistan mission as ‘cowards’ and then expect they’ll help you by sending their soldiers into your sector. Canada’s allies were, and are, still mighty pissed off. (It’s interesting to note that retired navy officer and Dalhousie University defence analyst Eric Lerhe warned about this very thing in December 2006 and faced a few barbs from other military analysts for raising the issue).

The Dutch decided to take a different approach than the Canadians. They complimented their allies and then asked them to fill a few specific jobs such as providing force protection and training teams. The approach was smooth and diplomatic enough that they are going to get what they asked for. The Hungarians, Slovaks, French and Czechs have all committed to sending soldiers (300 to 400) to help the Dutch.

Now the Dutch will be able to stay the course in Afghanistan and are expected to reduce the size of their own forces in Afghanistan by about 500 personnel, taking some of the pressure off the politicians at home. Smart move.
Now I may be wrong, but I don't think any senior Canadian official ever "crapped" on any specific ally by name. Nor used the word "cowards". Moreover, for the record, this is what the Dutch Defence Minister is reported on Oct. 24 as saying:
With public fury growing in the Netherlands, Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop opened the meeting [of NATO defense ministers in Noordwijk, Netherlands] with an appeal for ``fair risk- and burden-sharing'' to relieve overstretched Dutch forces in the south.
Sounds rather like what Canadian ministers have been saying, pace Mr Pugliese. He also writes that the Dutch will be reducing their strength "by about 500 personnel". This is what AFP reported (note the source):
A government statement said that the mission would however be slimmed down as NATO partners Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Slovakia had agreed to contribute troops.

Currently the Dutch have some 1,650 soldiers in Uruzgan: that number will be brought to between 1,450 and 1,350, said the statement.
That's a maximum reduction of 300. Oh well...

And I wonder what Mr Pugliese thinks of the public approach the new Australian Labour government is taking:
AUSTRALIA'S NATO partners must lift their game in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says...

"The defence minister [Mr Fitzgibbon] was also underlining the point, which is necessary to make publicly, and that is to encourage our NATO partners to do more when it comes to Afghanistan...

Mr Fitzgibbon has ruled out lifting Australia's military commitment in the absence of a greater contribution from NATO member countries to the International Security Force in Afghanistan.

But he also signalled that Australia would be prepared to consider a larger military commitment if NATO members bolstered their own forces...

"We are just so frustrated that so many other NATO countries are not making a contribution," Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian last night...
And now for the real substance of what the Aussies are saying, similar to US concerns (and note next month's NATO meeting in Canada, which our media seem to have missed):
"Unless we stabilise Afghanistan we have got problems beyond those that we experience at the moment," Mr Rudd said during a break in his first cabinet meeting today.

Mr Rudd's comments follow remarks by new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon yesterday sayiing the war in Afghanistan would be lost unless NATO and its close allies changed tactics, overhauling military and civil programs designed to bring stability to the country.

Mr Fitzgibbon's blunt warning was delivered to a closed-door meeting in Scotland of eight defence ministers, from the US, Australia and six other NATO nations with military forces in Afghanistan.

"We're there for the long haul [emphasis added]. And we made that very plain to our American ally and to our NATO partners," Mr Rudd said...

The defence minister's comments reflect the classified intelligence assessments presented to the former Howard government in recent months, which have painted a bleak picture of the military situation facing NATO and its allies as they battle Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

"The previous government would have us believe that good progress is being made in Afghanistan. The reality is quite a different one," Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian last night soon after returning from the meeting in Edinburgh.

"We are winning the battles and not the war, in my view. We have been very successful in clearing areas of the Taliban but it's having no real strategic effect."..

Mr Fitzgibbon has ruled out lifting Australia's military commitment in the absence of a greater contribution from NATO member countries to the International Security Force in Afghanistan.

But he also signalled that Australia would be prepared to consider a larger military commitment if NATO members bolstered their own forces [emphasis added].

At Friday's talks with defence ministers representing countries with military forces in southern Afghanistan, Mr Fitzgibbon also expressed frustration at the lack of a coherent strategy that could underpin the successful rehabilitation of Afghanistan as a nation state.

"You will struggle to get unanimity on what the objectives are in Afghanistan at the present time," he told The Australian.

At Mr Fitzgibbon's urging, NATO, led by the US with input from Australia, will now draw up a new military blueprint for the next 12 months of the campaign. It will have a sharp focus on southern Afghanistan, where the hardest fighting is taking place.

The US will also take the lead in devising a broader strategy for co-ordination of foreign military and civil aid agencies in Afghanistan over the next three to five years. This will include the appointment of a civilian special envoy to co-ordinate the work of the UN, the European Union and other civil agencies.

Defence ministers representing the eight nations with military forces stationed in the south will meet in Canada late next month [emphasis added] to review progress on the new military strategy.

"We are lacking in Afghanistan a coherent plan for the country," a senior defence source told The Australian. "The command chain is confused. We (ISAF) don't have enough troops on the ground. We don't have proper co-ordination between our military and civilian goals and actions."

He said Australian and NATO troops had been doing good work in clearing out insurgents but did not have the overall capacity to hold ground in key areas of southern Afghanistan [emphasis added]...

Mr Fitzgibbon told his colleagues that the Australian Defence Force had half of its infantry and cavalry committed to overseas deployments, including Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. Australia's 1000 troops in Afghanistan makes it the biggest non-NATO contributor to the military campaign in the country, and the 10th-biggest contributor overall...

"We need much more than a military response," he said. "This is largely about winning the hearts and minds of the more moderate of the Taliban and other sections of the Afghan community.

"We need more political advisers in the civil service. There is no administrative infrastructure.

"We need more training for the Afghan army and the Afghan police. We need someone there as a senior envoy co-ordinating this overall strategy."

Mr Fitzgibbon said until now, NATO and its allies had been providing a military and reconstruction response but had failed to successfully deal with the "big picture" in Afghanistan.

He said nations with military forces in southern Afghanistan had to deal with significant domestic political pressures.

"We have to hold the will of our constituencies. If we don't do that we will all be packing up and leaving,"
[emphasis added] he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon stressed a new military plan for ISAF operations in southern Afghanistan would endeavour to measure just how much larger the ISAF force should be to hold the ground they were gaining in recent military operations.
How refreshing is the frankness and clarity of the Aussies.


Blogger fm said...

Further Australian contributions to Afghanistan should become possible once the Iraq battle group returns in June. That's about 500 infantry and motorised cavalry. It's also likely East Timor will get quiet once again and most of another battalion sized battle group should be able to return to Australia in 2008. In addition, around 2010 the first of two extra infantry battalions (budgeted for a couple of years ago) should start to come online. One is already deploying company groups at the moment. The Tiger helicopters and the upgraded M113s should be substantially in service by then as well. So 2009/10 might be interesting times for Australian forces.

Also, there was a similar sort of debate on one of the Australian message boards which prompted one of the 'well-connected' members to produce some figures which I thought you might find interesting:

Below are the deployed figures into Afghanistan of all ISAF participants with a percentage of total active military personnel. This percentage does not include deployments to other campaigns.

NATO members located in peaceful areas

Belgium 381 (0.9%)
Czechia 224 (0.4%) (35 MPs in anti-Taliban ops)
Bulgaria 100 (0.2%)
France 1100 (0.3%)
Germany 3,600 (1.44%) (Parliamentary ban on anti-Taliban ops)
Greece 170 (0.1%)
Hungary 160 (0.54%)
Italy 2160 (0.7%) (Parliamentary ban on anti-Taliban ops)
Latvia 68 (1.16%)
Lithuania 130 (0.8%)
Norway 500 (1.66%) (4x F-16s are operating in support of anti-Taliban ops)
Poland 1,200 (0.74%) (some SF in anti-Taliban ops)
Romania 479 (0.63%)
Slovakia 60 (0.27%)
Slovenia 66 (0.16%)
Spain 400 (0.22%)
Turkey 1,150 (0.18%)

Non-NATO members located in peaceful areas

Croatia 180 (0.55%)
Finland 100 (0.6%)
Macedonia 151 (1.2%)
New Zealand 122 (1.4%) (40-65 SF in anti-Taliban ops)
Sweden 350 (1.6%)

NATO members engaged in anti-Taliban/AQ ops

Canada 2,100 (3.4%)
Denmark 665 (2.5%)
Estonia 130 (1.4%)
Netherlands 1,665 (2.7%)
Portugal 150 (0.33%)
UK 6,700 (3.4%)
USA 14,000 (0.99%)

Non-NATO members engaged in anti-Taliban/AQ ops

Australia 870 (1.7%)

I have no idea of the accuracy of the information, but it should be easy enough to gross error check. The guy who produced this is normally pretty reliable.

Cheers FM

10:16 p.m., December 17, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

As regards NATO, I frankly see no reason why the US should continue to carry that useless 'alliance' any further. If the Europeans are unwilling to do anything that might resemble 'combat' then the US should simply withdraw from NATO and allow it to collapse in a dysfunctional heap. Let their pacifist public defend their own interests for once. Like they have in Kosovo for example. Success story that it is.

See how far the Europeans can then project any degree of force when they lack both the will and the air lift capacity to actually go anywhere.

Canadians should not be dying in Khandahar, Australians and Dutch in Uruzgan, and Americans in Jalalabad, when the Germans are partying down in Kunduz.

This is a NATO operation and if NATO can't or won't do the job what earthly good is it ?

It is perfectly reasonable to question the performance of those who are not pulling their weight. The Soviet hoardes are no longer likely to be rolling thru Poland any time soon so someone should let the Euros know that they can step up or step out. They seem to think that the free ride should go on forever. They need to be seriously disabused of that notion.

Again put bluntly --- Canadians should not be dying while Europeans are partying. Been there -- done that.

10:25 a.m., December 18, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

We do well remember that the word "cowards" was used in this discussion, specifically for the Germans in the North of Afghanistan (Afstan !?!??), but not by whom.
More important: Bloomberg is not the most unbiased source. There is no "fury" over our long overdue stay in Afghanistan. The deal was that NLA, RNLN and RNLAF forces would remain until August next year (2008). The fact that cabinet has decided to stay longer is a matter of grave concern, with Srebrenica in the back of our Dutch minds. We were betrayed there by allies and caught the blame - and those are the facts.
And still Parliament will go along with the cabinet and let most of our forces stay for an extra two years. It might be longer: even that option is left open.
This is a generosity on the part of a very small country that deserves to be treated differently than fm does. Like Australia, we have forces in many parts of te world, in fact, most of our battle-ready troops are engaged in actions around the world, see:
The fact that we can send three or five hundred troops home after years of begging from nations that sinply do not keep their promises and withdraw at the first or third bodybag should be reason for an outcry in all of our country. But it is not. Our government, and that is us, the people, bites of much more than its fair share!
So please, get facts straight and from more sources, try to see things in context and remember history before cutting and pasting a bit, a tiny bit...
In that case, all the best from VNC Communication Consultants,

1:29 p.m., December 18, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sorry for the typos, ny eyes are failing.
And our most humble apologies to fm; we meant the original poster, Mark Ottawa; but got misled by the text right next to the comment-block. No hard feelings, I hope?

1:36 p.m., December 18, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Vincent, you may have misinterpreted the spirit of the commentary here - I assure you we're not slagging the Dutch. Quite the opposite, in fact, as you're one of the few nations in Southern Afghanistan fighting alongside our forces.

2:29 p.m., December 18, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Vincent: Thanks for your thoughtful comment and the point about the Bloomberg quote--I was simply using it as it provided the first recent quote I could find to show that the Netherlands has also not been uncritical of NATO allies.

If you search this site for "Dutch" or "Netherlands" you will see that we have given significant coverage to the most welcome work your armed forces are doing and the political debate in the Netherlands.


3:26 p.m., December 18, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the clarification, good fellows! Indeed, I have not been following this blog so this added information is most welcome.

Still I wonder: Why do so few nations shoulder the burden in Afghanistan? So many more have spoken up - but not stepped up, so far. fm's list is clear enough: peaceful areas: lots; fighting areas: a handful.

On the other hand, it is good to know for you people out there and down under that the Netherlands would never have sent any troops, had the people been rightly informed about the mission. This Uruzgan-mission was sold as a peace-keeping and reconstruction operation.
Of course, the armed forces knew better from the word go. Yet the government always played ignorant for the public at large. (I'm being very nice in my wording!)

When real fighting erupted last year, their story was: "Well, err. ya see, it's still alll about reconstruction, just a few straggling Koran-students / sillies / crazies / incidents etc. to contend with, but, err, ahem, we're still not really fighting..."

In that sense, Bloomberg has a point.
Parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition is vocal enough, but not strong enough to stop the cabinet's decision.

The extension of the mission for another two years is still being sold under those same pretenses. Only now, officialdom has added: "Well, we started it, we have to finish it, we can not now suddenly (sic!) leave those poor people in the lurch..."

In short, our troops are fighting a war no-one wants to call a war. Sounds familiar?

But the troops, professionals and volunteers, by the way, know very well what they went in for, what they are doing at present and what they will have to do in years to come. And they do and will do it, just like they did so far. So sorry, mister Karzai, but the fighter planes, gunships and howitzers will stay.

9:35 p.m., December 18, 2007  

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