- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The current anti-terrorist offensive that NATO is waging in Afghanistan should be a wake-up call for two U.S. allies in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The first is the government of Pakistan, which has received upward of $10 billion in U.S. assistance since September 11, but is under intense domestic pressure not to move against the jihadists. The second is NATO, where the overwhelming majority of the organization’s 26 members are failing to pull their weight in fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan.

NATO forces have scored a number of recent victories near Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city. These include retaking a number of local villages that had been captured by Taliban who escaped from prison earlier this month. The Afghan government charges that the Taliban wreaking havoc near Kandahar were approximately 20 mid-level commanders from neighboring Pakistan, and that they were key strategists involved in planning suicide attacks. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on June 15 declared that Afghanistan has the right to send troops across the border into Pakistan to hunt down the Taliban leadership. Increasingly, U.S. and NATO forces have launched cross-border military strikes targeting Taliban forces in Pakistan.

Much of the violence and terrorism enveloping Afghanistan has its roots in Pakistan, where Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has made peaceful engagement with the Taliban a top political priority. Senior Taliban leaders and hundreds of jihadist foot soldiers have been released from prison, and the Gilani government has yielded to Taliban demands for establishment of Shariah law in the border region. Washington and Kabul have both protested Pakistan’s soft approach to the Taliban, saying that it strengthens that radical ally of al Qaeda - but to no avail. So long as Pakistan remains a sanctuary for jihadists targeting Afghanistan, NATO’s progress in keeping the terrorists out will be limited.

Aside from Pakistan’s harmful role, the major stumbling block to military progress in Afghanistan continues to be the uneven performance of individual countries in contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there. The United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia provide more than 35,600 of the 52,900 troops serving in the force. Most of the fighting is done by American, Canadian and British troops with assistance from the Dutch. Moreover, some European nations restrict troop movement. (Germany, for example, reportedly bars its pilots from flying at night, and its troops are prohibited from traveling more than two hours from a major medical facility.) Defense Secretary Robert Gates has lobbied Washington’s NATO allies to increase their contributions, and he has achieved some important but limited successes, including yesterday’s promise by Germany to increase the size of its force from 3,500 to 4,500. But Europe needs to do much more to pull its weight in Afghanistan.

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