Bucharest, Asharq Al-Awsat – While NATO’s relations with Russia and disagreements over major issues dominated the alliance’s summit which ended its sessions on Friday; an atmosphere of satisfaction with the progress made in the Afghan situation prevailed.
NATO announced the mission of its forces in Afghanistan, “ISAF”, are its priority in a comprehensive document entitled “ISAF’s Strategic Vision” which was made public the night last week when France confirmed the dispatch of more forces to Afghanistan. The latter was also a source of a breakthrough in the alliance’s relations with Russia after the signing of the agreement to transport non-combat equipment to Afghanistan through Russian territories. At a time when the media pondered the disagreements between Russia and NATO over the missile defense system and postponement of Ukraine and Georgia’s applications to join NATO, Russian and alliance officials were eager to refer to the agreement between the two sides in the sphere of “joint antiterrorism cooperation.”
Sir Jock Stirrup, the United Kingdom’s Chief of the Defense Staff, stated that the “summit achieved good military progress and (French President Nicola) Sarkozy’s announcement about sending more troops to (east) Afghanistan was welcomed”, adding that the decision is “important politically and militarily.” He said “a broader participation by major European countries gives an important message”, adding: “As President Bush announced, this means that American forces (deployed in the east) can move to the south. All these are good things.”
But Sir Stirrup stressed in exclusive statements to Asharq Al-Awsat on the summit’s sidelines that the situations in Afghanistan need political support and coordination of the reconstruction efforts, which the summit included in the “ISAF’s Strategic Vision” document and added: “We must remember that the military campaign is proceeding well in Afghanistan and will continue to be so. But the essential thing is to give the Afghan people the good results in terms of the government, reconstruction, education, jobs, and justice. Here, the international community must really concentrate its efforts.”
In response to a question about the strategy in Afghanistan which in the last years focused on reconstruction in addition to military action, Stirrup answered: “The strategy was always there but we probably did not talk about it more broadly”, adding that the “problem is the need to implement the strategy. From the military aspect, we have ways for coordinating the military efforts and coordinating events at the proper time and place so as to get the desired results. But apart from the military sphere, there is not such a mechanism, which means we are creating it gradually.” He said: “For this reason, we consider the appointment of the UN’s new envoy (Kai Eide) extremely important because he is the one we will look for to coordinate the international and Afghan Government efforts.”
The United Kingdom announced yesterday it will contribute to the establishment of a monetary fund to finance necessary equipment for NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, such as helicopters, but did not say whether it would be sending more forces. Sir Stirrup said “we will continue to review the situation on the ground” and added: “If there is a need to change the level of forces, then this will be done, as it happened in the past years.”
In addition to the issue of sending more forces to Afghanistan, the summit witnessed disagreements inside the alliance over the powers given to the military commanders in Afghanistan to deploy the forces in the trouble areas, especially in the south of the country. It is recalled that though the representatives of more than 40 countries participating in the “ISAF” forces, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended the NATO meetings on Afghanistan, the latter did not attract much attention at the summit after the agreement on the “ISAF’s Strategic Vision” document was reached prior to the summit after weeks of political consultations.