Afghanistan — Commander Discusses NATO Contributions in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The NATO allies are in Afghanistan for the long haul and have made both sig­nif­i­cant progress and sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ments to the effort there, the alliance’s supreme allied com­man­der for Europe said here today.

The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force will have rough­ly 98,000 U.S. troops and about 43,000 allied troops by fall, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis told the Defense Writ­ers Group. NATO’s troop con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan is “sig­nif­i­cant,” he said.

Casu­al­ty fig­ures, the admi­ral said, show that NATO has stepped up. About 1,100 U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers have been killed in Afghanistan, and the oth­er coali­tion mem­bers have lost 650.

“Per capi­ta, Esto­nia has suf­fered the most,” Stavridis said, “fol­lowed by Den­mark, Great Britain, Cana­da and the Unit­ed States.”

With Mon­go­lia, Mon­tene­gro and South Korea join­ing the coali­tion, 47 nations are now work­ing togeth­er in Afghanistan, Stavridis not­ed. “The allies are in this in a sub­stan­tial way,” he said. “Could they do more? Yes.”

Though the allied con­tri­bu­tion is sub­stan­tial, he said, the coali­tion needs more peo­ple to train the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces.

Suc­cess in Afghanistan will come, Stavridis said, when the Afghan army and police can take over the secu­ri­ty mis­sion. About 5,200 more train­ers are need­ed in Afghanistan. Rough­ly 3,600 are on the ground now. NATO’s share of the over­all train­ing mis­sion is 1,600.

“Right now, I’ve got on the ground or com­mit­ted 1,150” train­ers, the admi­ral said. “So, I need 450 [more].”

The train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan, Stavridis said, is his high­est pri­or­i­ty. As he works with NATO nations’ defense chiefs to fill the short­fall, he added, U.S. sol­diers will step in to bridge the train­ing gap. The admi­ral thanked those sol­diers for serv­ing a 90-day tour, say­ing there is no more impor­tant job in Afghanistan today.

The Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are mak­ing progress, and their con­tri­bu­tions must be fac­tored into any plan mov­ing for­ward in the coun­try, Stavridis said. Afghanistan has about 200,000 sol­diers and police today, and that num­ber will grow to around 250,000 in the fall, he said. The forces are grow­ing in size and capa­bil­i­ties, he added, while the deser­tion rate has gone down. And improve­ments in pay – both the amount and how it makes it to the sol­diers and police – have been a fac­tor in recruit­ing and reten­tion.

Stavridis said four fac­tors will be essen­tial to coali­tion suc­cess in Afghanistan. First among these, he said, is strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“It’s effec­tive­ly explain­ing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in the cap­i­tals of the alliance and in Afghanistan,” he explained.

The sec­ond is the civ­il-mil­i­tary bal­ance. Civil­ian aid is just as impor­tant as mil­i­tary force in this new world, he said. Mark Sed­will, the senior NATO civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Afghanistan, is get­ting the civil­ian effort work­ing in tan­dem with the mil­i­tary effort, the admi­ral said.

Third is pro­tect­ing the peo­ple of Afghanistan. Stavridis echoed the sen­ti­ment expressed by ISAF Com­man­der Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, who has said, “We will not kill our way out of this.”

“We have got to make pro­tect­ing the Afghan peo­ple the cen­ter of grav­i­ty,” Stavridis said. “We’ve made some progress in that, but every inci­dent [of civil­ian casu­al­ties] hurts us.”

Final­ly, the admi­ral said, train­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces is cru­cial to suc­cess.

Stavridis said that while much remains to be done, Afghanistan has seen over­all progress, and the alliance has made a dif­fer­ence.

“Afghanistan is often called the grave­yard of empires,” he said. “But we’re not an empire, and the coali­tion has no desire to stay in the coun­try any longer than nec­es­sary.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)