Afghanistan: NATO's Most Critical Mission
M. Ashraf Haidari

When citizens of NATO allies look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask: “What chance of success does NATO have?” People should realize, however, that comparing the present-day stabilization mission to past military adventures is not appropriate.

Past foreign involvements in Afghanistan—including those of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and, more recently, the Soviet Union in the late 20th century—were motivated by imperial and ideological competition. Those powers were not striving to build a stable, democratic and self-reliant society. And they certainly signed nothing like the Afghanistan Compact.

Today, more than 40 nations are working together to stabilize Afghanistan and consolidate its new democracy. This truly international endeavor enjoys the overwhelming support of Afghans, who constitute an important strategic asset in the fight to contain terrorism. Thus, it is clear that NATO is in Afghanistan for different reasons altogether, including the national security of its member states. One cannot deny the real security risk NATO allies will face if Afghanistan’s stabilization efforts fail and the country once more becomes the domain of terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers, as it was under the Taliban.

We know from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that threats to global security are increasingly transnational in nature. Non-state actors are more dangerous today than state actors were during the Cold War when security threats primarily came from interstate hostilities centered on the ideological differences between the members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.

Third World proxy conflicts characterized the Cold War between the two ideological blocs for more than four decades, and Afghanistan featured as one of the main Cold War theaters from 1979 to 1989. However, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism at the end of the 80s, NATO’s Cold War role ended.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a rude reminder to NATO members that despite the demise of Communism, there were still many threats posed to the West by radical forces, threats that represented a dark side of the new world order shaped by globalization, and posed a direct challenge to NATO itself.

It is generally agreed that premature disengagement from countries like Afghanistan, and a failure to recognize the rising threat of international terrorism, eventually contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Securing Afghanistan is now one of NATO’s most important post-Cold War tasks—its raison d''être in a way—which must be strongly reaffirmed in the Bucharest Summit this week. A firm commitment by the NATO allies to bolstering their troop levels by 7,500 additional forces without functional and territorial restrictions, commonly known as “caveats,” is critical to fighting and defeating the resurgent Taliban in the south and east of Afghanistan.

In addition, NATO allies and other participating states must firmly commit to providing more military and police trainers to build the Afghan national security forces to reach the targeted goals of 80,000 soldiers for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and 82,000 officers for the Afghan National Police (ANP) by the end of 2009. To meet these training requirements, Afghanistan needs more than 70 Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLTs)—each comprising 16-20 men—to train ANA units, and 2,300 police trainers, including force protection, to implement the district police development program currently underway. 

In the meantime, NATO allies must firmly commit to the long-term implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which in many ways resembles the Marshall Plan in vision and scope. NATO allies understand that Europe could not have rebuilt on its own in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the increasing threat posed by the former Soviet Union, without external aid. Thanks in large measure to the Marshall Plan, war-ravaged Europe was able to rebuild rapidly, and today it is hard to believe that the previous century’s two devastating world wars were fought primarily on European soil.

The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe in the 20th Century is an excellent reminder for the NATO allies in the 21st century that when nations come to each other’s aid with firm and full commitment, no force—no matter how formidable—can prevent their victory if they stand together until the job is done.

Afghans just celebrated their New Year (1387), which will be a pivotal year in the fight against terrorism. A resolute NATO, armed with requisite security and development resources, will be certain to secure Afghanistan and the entire region. Afghans look forward to finding a strong and determined partner in the NATO alliance in the year ahead, a partner who can help finish the job started by the international community seven years ago.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. His email is