Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

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Faced With the Taliban Challenge, NATO Takes Over From the Americans in Afghanistan

By Françoise Chipaux
Le Monde
    Sunday 30 July 2006

    Kandahar: Afghan officials are convinced that the transfer of responsibilities from the United States-led coalition to NATO – which is to become effective July 31 – is one of the things that explain the explosion of violence shaking the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. “The last four years, the Americans succeeded in establishing links with (local) leaders and suddenly they’re leaving and passing the baton to the Canadians, who have everything to learn,” observes Khalid Pashtoon, a deputy and vice-president of the Commission for Internal Security. “The transition period, during which nothing happened, gave the Taliban the opportunity to resume contact with the population. The Canadians need time to understand where they are,” adds Ahmad Wali Karzai, brother to President Hamid Karzai and president of the Provincial Council of Kandahar.

    NATO’s arrival in place of the United States is interpreted by a number of Afghans as a worrying sign of American disengagement. The fact that the United States will maintain the largest contingent of foreign troops in Afghanistan does not change this perception, which contributes to the doubt that has taken hold about the durability of the international presence. Nevertheless, NATO is going to double its soldiers in the South: 3,300 British soldiers are deploying in Helmand province, 2,300 Canadians operate in Kandahar province, and 1,400 Dutch troops supported by 240 Australians are settling in Uruzgan province.

    Commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan, British general David J. Richards made it clear that his men are going to change their approach as compared to that of coalition forces. “We’ll be a force more attentive to the needs of the population,” he said recently during a press conference in Kabul.

    “My military power will not limit itself to conquering the Taliban, but, just as importantly, will serve to assure the future of villages and localities,” he added. Without saying so explicitly, the NATO troops want to distinguish themselves from the aggressive image devoid of any respect for the population that sticks to American troops. In spite of the heat, Dutch soldiers, for example, will continue to wear their olive green uniforms – very different from the Americans’ sand-colored uniform.

    Clear on paper, the Atlantic Alliance forces’ mandate – to support the Afghan central government to extend its control over the provinces – risks being all the more complicated in that the population has lost confidence in the government. “We must try to reach the informal officials in these communities to sidestep that obstacle,” admits a diplomat from a country involved in this deployment. “We will try to get involved in official nominations to be certain professionals are designated. Good governance will be our principal priority,” he notes. In this regard, President Karzai’s recent decision to restore a role for Mudjahadin commanders with a sad reputation does not bode well. NATO troops’ goodwill also runs the risk of clashing with the distrust of the population that has waited five years for the application of the promises to create schools, clinics, roads, wells. “The main thing will be not to make promises we can’t keep,” asserts one officer.

    Mixed Methods

    NATO forces risk finding time running against them, while the Taliban presence has very clearly spread and its influence progressed. The fight against these rebels and their potential inroads could thus very quickly overwhelm the will for development, especially if losses in the ranks of the international forces are significant. Already, one Canadian soldier back from patrol acknowledges, “We know perfectly well that once we leave a village, the Taliban come back.”

    NATO will also have to operate in the presence of coalition troops, elements of which will remain for the anti-terrorist struggle. “Every counter-terrorism mission will have to be coordinated with NATO,” emphasizes Commandant Luke Knittig, spokesperson for the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF). But the mixed methods risk being poorly understood by the population.

    The deployment of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan taking place now will be a determining factor for the following stage; that is, the Atlantic organization’s takeover of the whole country. For the moment, coalition troops – essentially American – are going to pursue their mandate in the southeastern and the eastern provinces.

    French special forces, which operate in the coalition, are consequently going to move from Spin Boldak (southern Kandahar) to Jalalabad (east). “From a military point of view, the sooner the eastern provinces pass under NATO command, the better it will be, since that will be easier,” assures Commandant Knittig.

    Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.  

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This entry was posted on 1 August, 2006 by in Activism.

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