With apologies, but during his term in office as Chief of the Defence Staff it is not often that I have found myself impressed by what the current incumbent, General Sir Nick Carter has done or said but on the matter of his interview with the BBC broadcast last week I find myself in agreement with at least part of what he said in relation to the US, and subsequently followed by Britain, decision to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by September of this year.
Current US and NATO allied involvement in Afghanistan comprises of around 10,000 troops n-country of whom 2,500 are US and 750 from the UK. While I have long taken the view that Afghanistan is not a ‘war’ that could be won or indeed, lost by either the allied forces or Taliban the role that US and NATO forces have played in rebuilding the Afghan national security force in an attempt to at least stabilise the situation has been crucial. As far as I am concerned, to walk away by a set date in September opens the door to potential Taliban control and for the nation to once again become a safe haven for potential terrorists.
I said that I agree in part of what General Sir Nick said – the part where he is reportedly unhappy about US Afghanistan withdrawal plan – or in the rather dumbed down language that he is allowed by his masters in Whitehall to use, he is dismayed and that while he respected the view taken by the US Biden administration this was, “not a decision we hoped for”.
Having I suspect previously been told of the US decision to pull out UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin late last week and made the following remarks “The people of Afghanistan deserve a peaceful and stable future”. Yes, they certainly do Secretary of State and what instead are you giving – nothing but instability and potential for the people to be downtrodden by a resurgent Taliban. Did you challenge the decision when you were first told by our American allies and did you raise the matter in Cabinet? Well, I cannot possibly know the answer to that but deep down I suspect that you acted like the puppet and did what you were told by Whitehall, as of course did, as in this day and age of being silenced from making external advisory comments, General Sir Nick Carter although he did at least leave the inuendo “it is clearly an acknowledgement of an evolving US strategic posture”.
General Sir Nick may well have had his term of office as CDS extended by a few months but he will depart the scene soon. Mr. Wallace provided no such innuendo and showed no disappointment whatsoever. There we are such is how we think of a nation that has endured such a troubled history for so long and that may in time once again become a powder keg for future terrorism. Mr. Wallace wouldn’t care about that and I rather suspect that his days as Secretary of State for Defence are drawing to a close and that he may well find himself moved on in the next Cabinet reshuffle.
Clearly, with no inherent strategy outside of the current NATO ‘Resolute Support Mission’ strategy I accept that neither Britain or for that matter, other NATO member states contributing troops to Afghanistan in the security and many training roles they undertake to assist the Afghan national security force could do anything outside of the NATO command structure.
The formal view expressed by General Sir Nick in his interview and as reported in ‘Defense News’ was that he “didn’t believe the post-withdrawal position would be as bad as the “naysayers” think.
“I actually think that the Taliban is not the organization it once was, it is an organization that has evolved significantly in the 20 years that we have been there,“ adding that “They recognize that they need some political legitimacy and I would not be surprised if a scenario plays out that actually sees it not being quite as bad as perhaps some of the naysayers at the moment are predicting,” What planet is this soldier living on – does he really think that the Afghanistan government will last more than a year? Does he really believe the Taliban has changed its spots and has all of a sudden become a peace-loving organisation that believes in freedom of speech and equally for all Afghanistan citizens? Are we really that weak-willed that we are prepared to so easily capitulate and no longer even defend the principals of democracy?
My end view is simple – the US and its NATO allies are not just selling the Afghanistan people short they are throwing the nation to another century of instability.
Russia will no doubt be observing the situation with a keen interest. Russian interests rely on destabilisation and meanwhile in another part of the forest, Russian troops are we are told massing on the Ukrainian border. What will we do about that I wonder? Very little I suspect although we do know it was one of the subjects discussed in the brief meeting last week between the UK and US ministers.
China which as we all know is each day strengthening its defence potential although is probably far yet from making the ‘inevitable’ challenge that I suspect it will in the years ahead will also be observing western foreign policy with keen interest.
The world is undoubtedly becoming a less safe place and while there are many other worrying geo-political situations to observe aside the need for stability in Afghanistan as the years go by, I fear that I become increasingly concerned about the lack of western resolve. Our enemies and would-be enemies don’t think or act like us – they have different agendas. Sadly, the gap between the Western alliance, China, Russia and our other traditional enemies continues to widen.
For the record, below is the history of the NATO led UN mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) involvement in Afghanistan and the transition of NATO involvement from January 2015 to the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) from January 2015:
NATO led the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF’s mission was to enable the Afghan authorities and build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces to provide effective security, so as to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists.
ISAF was NATO’s longest and most challenging mission to date: at its height, the force was more than 130,000 strong with troops from 50 NATO and partner nations.
ISAF also contributed to reconstruction and development in Afghanistan through 28 multinational Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
The transition to Afghan lead for security started in 2011 and was completed in December 2014, when the ISAF operation ended and the Afghans assumed full responsibility for security of their country.
In January 2015, NATO launched the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and institutions. Currently, this numbers around 10,000 troops from 36 NATO Allies and partner countries.
At the July 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, the Allies and their operational partners committed to sustain RSM until conditions indicate a change is appropriate; to extend financial sustainment of the Afghan security forces through 2024; and to make further progress on developing a political and practical partnership with Afghanistan.
In April 2021, the Allies and their RSM partners decided to start the withdrawal of troops on 1 May 2021. The plan is to complete the orderly, coordinated and deliberate drawdown of all US and RSM troops within a few months.
The Allies continue to support the ongoing Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. They urge the Afghan government and the Taliban to fulfil their commitments to working towards a comprehensive peace agreement that puts an end to violence and builds on the progress of the last 20 years to safeguard human rights, uphold the rule of law and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists.
The Enduring Partnership — set up in 2010 and strengthened at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw — is NATO’s political partnership with Afghanistan. A traditional partnership with Afghanistan remains NATO’s long-term goal.
NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative represents the political leadership of the Alliance in Kabul, advising the Afghan authorities on the Enduring Partnership as well as liaising with the government, civil society, representatives of the international community and neighbouring countries.
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785