NATO limits on Afghan operations make militancy possible: General

May 10th, 2008 - 12:56 pm ICT by admin  

Mons (Belgium), May 10 (DPA) Limits placed on NATO forces operating in Afghanistan by their national governments have allowed militant forces to keep a foothold in the country, a NATO general has said. “We are not getting what we need … We would like to get what we need to fulfil our mission,” NATO Chief of Staff General Karl-Heinz Lather said Friday.

“It is this gap that enables opposing militant forces to operate in Afghanistan,” he told journalists at a meeting in NATO’s headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Moreover, NATO members will need to commit an extra three battalions - each of 700 to 1,500 men - to Afghanistan by the end of the year just to keep their forces at the current level as US forces rotate out, he said in a bleak warning to NATO leaders.

NATO currently leads the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which maintains some 47,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, a task it took over in 2003.

From the outset, NATO’s mission has been dogged by disagreements between member states over what their troops are meant to be doing in the country, and whether or not they are allowed to go into the most dangerous areas.

Two of ISAF’s biggest contributors, France and Germany, have refused to let their troops enter southern Afghanistan, the most conflict-ridden part of the country, because of political pressures at home.

Caveats such as this have long been the focus of criticism in states such as the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Britain - all of whom have committed troops to the south.

“Caveats, like the shortfalls, increase the risk to every ISAF member in Afghanistan… We are losing people, and there are some cases where you can link this to caveats,” Lather said, adding that there were more than 80 caveats currently in force.

It would be welcome if NATO countries allowed their troops to move from quieter parts of Afghanistan to places where it is less peaceful, Lather said.

The general’s comments echo earlier complaints from NATO officials, but they are especially weighty because he is both one of the highest-ranking officers in NATO and one of Germany’s own top generals.

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