- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

The news from Afghanistan in recent months has not been good. How NATO responds — in immediate troop deployments and in preparations for the longer term — could determine whether Afghanistan evolves into a viable, sustainable democracy or reverts into the chaos that sowed the seeds of September 11.

Consider these worrisome developments in September alone. On Sept. 2, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that opium production in Afghanistan had surged 49 percent this year. After having been effectively eradicated earlier this decade, Afghanistan’s opium output now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s illegal supply and generates more than half of Afghanistan’s national income. Also on Sept. 2, NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan launched Operation Medusa, which has culminated in the military alliance’s largest ground assault in its history.

On Sept. 7, following 18 months of behind-the-scenes entreaties for more troops, NATO’s supreme allied commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, issued an extraordinary public appeal to the 26-member alliance for 2,500 additional troops to be deployed in southern Afghanistan. Despite his characterization of the current fighting as being “decisive,” Gen. Jones received no commitments from the top generals from the 26 NATO countries that convened in Warsaw on Sept. 8 and 9. On September 11, the United States and the rest of the world commemorated the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack, conceived and orchestrated from Afghanistan, that murdered nearly 3,000 innocents. On Sept. 12, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the world that Afghanistan risked becoming “a failed state” (again) unless NATO affirmatively responded to the public plea from Gen. Jones for more troops. Eerily, on the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11, Miss Rice warned that Afghanistan “could come back to haunt us” if NATO was not successful in defeating the resurgent Taliban. The very next day, a high-level NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, concluded without any of the alliance’s 26 nations making a firm commitment to provide additional troops to southern Afghanistan.

Currently, there are about 20,000 troops under NATO command in Afghanistan, including about 1,300 from the United States. In addition, there are another 20,000 U.S. forces who remain exclusively under U.S. command. With 5,000 troops in Afghanistan, Great Britain, which also has 7,200 troops in Iraq, contributes the most troops to NATO’s contingent in Afghanistan. Germany has deployed about 2,800 troops to Afghanistan, but they are confined mostly to Kabul. So, too, are Turkey’s 900 troops in Afghanistan. Canada has 2,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Netherlands has about 2,000 troops. Spain has contributed nearly 700 soldiers to Afghanistan, and Romania and Denmark have smaller contingents there.

On Aug. 1, with about 8,000 troops (mostly from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands), NATO took over military control in southern Afghanistan from a U.S.-led coalition. To buttress military activity in the south, Gen. Jones has been seeking a reserve battalion of 1,000 troops and another 1,500 troops (and 18 attack helicopters and three C-130 transport aircraft) for air-support operations. In recent days, Poland has offered 1,000 troops, but doesn’t want to supply them until February, when it would prefer to deploy them in eastern Afghanistan in a “police role.” (Gen. Jones wants the forces “before the winter” for combat operations in the south.) Canada recently said it could send an additional 200 troops, and more soldiers could be coming from Romania.

Complicating the urgent call to arms in Afghanistan has been a flurry of recent NATO commitments to peacekeeping in Lebanon: Italy, 3,000 troops; Germany, 2,400; France, 2,000; and Turkey, 1,000. Nevertheless, given both Afghanistan’s recent history and the dire warning issued by Miss Rice, it is utterly unacceptable that the most powerful (and wealthiest) military alliance in world history seems unable (and, worse, unwilling) to meet the challenges posed by Afghanistan today.

According to the 2006 edition of “The Military Balance,” published annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the United States spends about 4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on national defense. The other 25 members of NATO collectively spend less than 2 percent on defense, including Germany (1.4 percent), Italy (2 percent), France (2.6 percent), Canada (1.2 percent), United Kingdom (2.3 percent), Spain (1.3 percent) and Turkey (3.1 percent). By comparison, according to data from the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, in 1985 the United States spent 6.6 percent of its GDP on defense. Comparable 1985 military-spending figures were: West Germany (3.2 percent), Italy (2.7 percent), France (4.1 percent), Canada (2.3 percent), United Kingdom (5.3 percent), Spain (2.3 percent) and Turkey (4.6 percent).

Since September 11, Islamic terrorists have detonated bombs in London, Madrid and Istanbul. Last month, police found suitcases with unexploded bombs on two trains in Germany, where Mohamed Atta (one of the September 11 jihadists) operated before relocating to the United States. Clearly, our NATO allies know the stakes, even if they refuse to react accordingly. Meanwhile, the United States has been engaged in war in Afghanistan nearly 50 percent longer than it was at war in Europe during World War II. In December 2004, near the end of President Bush’s first term, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld remarked at a town hall meeting with U.S. soldiers in Kuwait: “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you may want or wish to have at a later time.”

Now, more than five years after September 11, with the Iraq war also having lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II in Europe, America must spend the resources necessary to meet the challenges in Afghanistan — even if our comparably endangered allies shamefully refuse to do so.

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