Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

German Special Forces in Afghanistan – Not Licensed to Kill

20 May, 2008

Much has been made by various commentators in recent months about the negative impact national caveats are having on Nato/ISAF operational capabilities in Afghanistan. As well as affecting operational effectiveness, such caveats – which place self-imposed restrictions on the way in which individual national forces may be deployed – are having a corrosive effect on relations between contributing Nato countries, and on overall ISAF morale.

Although forces from all 26 Nato member states are deployed in Afghanistan, only Britain, America, Canada, Denmark and Holland have not used caveats to limit the rules of engagement of their troops. While the French, Italians and Spanish have all come in for criticism in the past, particular ire has been directed at the German contingent, whose forces may only be deployed in a non-combat role in the relatively peaceful north.

Such criticism is only likely to intensify following the revelation yesterday by Der Spiegel that an important Taliban commander – said to be responsible for the November 2007 Baghlan bombing which killed 79 people, including dozens of children – was allowed to escape by German KSK special forces as they were not authorised to use lethal force.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

From a military point of view, the so-called targeting has been a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban leaders, about 150 commanders, have since been “neutralized,” meaning they are either dead or captured. Most of the capture-or-kill missions, as the operations are called in military jargon, are undertaken by British or American special forces.

But so far the Germans haven’t wanted to take part. And that causes problems, because the insurgents are increasingly gaining influence in the nine provinces under German command.

….

Nonetheless, even in a time of growing threats in Afghanistan, Berlin is sticking to its “principle of proportionality,” stressed one high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry. A fugitive like the Baghlan bomber is not an aggressor and should not be shot unless necessary, the official explains.

Soldiers from Britain’s British Special Air Service or the US’s Delta Force are less bothered about such hair-splitting. For them, this is a war in which it comes down to “kill or be killed,” say sources in military circles in Kabul. The “targets” are identified, tracked down and — often with the help of laser-guided weapons systems — “eliminated.”

The Germans have considerable misgivings about such an approach. They have secretly given “clarification notes” to NATO with far-ranging instructions for their soldiers which expressly contradict the usual procedures: “The use of lethal force is prohibited unless an attack is taking place or is imminent.” Sources in NATO circles regard the confidential document as a “national exception,” a caveat which places restrictions on operational capability. The Germans, for their part, always avoid using the word caveat, out of diplomatic considerations vis-à-vis their allies.

The most remarkable thing about the secret document is its stated justification. The German government considers its allies’ approach as “not being in conformity with international law.” Little wonder that NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is marked by tension and friction.

While the principle of proportionality is an important one in counterinsurgency, the German position epitomised by this incident is clearly pushing the principle to the point of absurdity. However, irrespective of how ridiculous this individual incident is, it is the underlying issue of national caveats that is ultimately at fault, and here the Germans are by no means solely to blame.

Speaking in March, ISAF commander Gen Dan McNeill said that he “would like the caveats to be eliminated”, claiming they were “frustrating in how they impinge upon my ability to properly plan, resource and prosecute effective military operations”. Unfortunately, there does not currently seem any realistic prospect that such wishes are likely to be fulfilled.

Read the full Der Spiegel article here.

[Der Spiegel]
Der Spiegel

Strategic Chaos & Taliban Resurgence

3 April, 2008

For a far more critical assessment of the situation in Afghanistan than that provided by the MoD news site, the testimony of Mark L. Schneider – Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group – before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia is highly recommended.

Schneider begins by providing quantitative and qualitative arguments illustrating the Taliban’s resurgence. Among other indicators, he cites the fact that while suicide bombings were up 27% in 2007 over 2006, they were up a massive 400% when compared with 2005. He also points to the increasing emergence of an opium-based shadow economy, whose taxation is empowering a range of sub-state actors, not just the Taliban.

His analysis of how this situation was allowed to develop is worth quoting at length. The criticism of the excessively fragmented implementation of the counterinsurgency campaign is particularly damning, considering that ever since Templar in Malaya, the need for a unified civil-military command structure has been a truism of COIN practice. His criticisms of the role being played by PRTs are also worth considering.

The current state of affairs was not inevitable. It resulted from policy choices early on in the international community; light military and political footprints with the co-opting of local and all too frequently corrupt militia leaders rather than international boots on the ground. There was a failure to get UNSC-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) out into the provinces. In 2002, Crisis Group was arguing for a peacekeeping force of 25,000 to 30,000. Instead, there were 4,500 ISAF troops confined to Kabul. There was no reassessment of strategic alliances in Pakistan to ensure the Taliban sanctuaries across the border were closed down.

Today the lack of strategic coherence within the international community effort is reflected in separate civilian special representatives of the United Nations, of the European Union and of NATO, with no clear authority one over the other; and in a reluctance on the part of the United States and other major country contributors to be coordinated by any one of them.

On the military side there remains the US led Coalition Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) undertaking training of local security forces as well as its own operations, with separate commands, reporting to EUCOM and to NATO, reporting to CENTCOM and at least one reporting to the Special Operations command in Tampa.

The NATO-led ISAF has 40 contributing nations acting under a UNSC mandate and NATO command with five regional commands and 26 national-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) underneath it. Many of the nations involved have national caveats that restrict where the ISAF commander can send his troops and what they can be required to do. This means that the burden of risk and casualties is unevenly borne by the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands and others whose forces are permitted to go to the areas of heavy fighting.

The PRT’s were established with the reasonable purpose of the military being able to provide some direct community benefits where insecurity prevented other, more appropriate, civilian actors from doing so. But there are serious questions about the use of PRT’s as instruments to achieve the wider goal of national development. While one could argue that differing local conditions may require flexibility in defining activities in a province, except for the 12-U.S. run PRT’s, there is little commonality among them and they operate without any transparent or common doctrine or even reporting lines for non-military actions.

The PRT’s may provide some capacity to undertake efforts in insecure provinces; however, many of the areas where the PRT’s operate are no longer high risk security. Reconstruction and development are not the role, responsibility, or comparative advantage of the military. In more stable areas, Afghanistan civilian agencies with their international civilian counterparts should be in the lead. Yet, there are no agreed-upon benchmarks for determining when that transition can take place and when it should take place. Today, the PRT’s often seem a supply-driven phenomenon, a way for nations to fly their flag in Afghanistan, but with little evaluation as to comparative impact or effectiveness.

Such an approach, particularly without strong civilian leadership, has meant a lack of a comprehensive international cooperation strategy. Instead, each country involved often appears to see Afghanistan largely through the lens of where they are based—the UK sees Helmand as Afghanistan; the Dutch, Uruzgan; and Germany, northern Afghanistan.

Schneider’s testimony is not consistently bleak, and he cites several causes for optimism, before stressing the vital importance of staying the course in Afghanistan. However, as he comments at one point, ‘While effective military action may deny victory to the insurgency—only effective governance will defeat it.’

Read the full testimony here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers