How NATO came to Afghanistan

Historian and journalist Gareth Porter on the process that led to NATO being in Afghanistan (Gareth Porter, “How Afghanistan became a war for NATO,” Inter Press Service, 3 January 2011):

The official line of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO command in Afghanistan, is that the war against Afghan insurgents is vital to the security of all the countries providing troops there.

In fact, however, NATO was given a central role in Afghanistan because of the influence of U.S. officials concerned with the alliance, according to a U.S. military officer who was in a position to observe the decision-making process.

“NATO’s role in Afghanistan is more about NATO than it is about Afghanistan,” the officer, who insisted on anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the subject, told IPS in an interview.

The article also points to the role of NATO bureaucrats and NATO member military establishments, who were looking to prove themselves relevant following the end of the Cold War, and to the politics of dealing with the U.S. as the Iraq War went on:

[U.S. Gen. James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe,] admitted in an October 2005 interview with American Forces Press Service that NATO had struggled to avoid becoming irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. “NATO was in limbo for a bit,” he said.

But the 9/11 attacks had offered a new opportunity for NATO to demonstrate its relevance.

The NATO allies were opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq, but they wanted to demonstrate their support for stabilising and reconstructing Afghanistan. Jones prodded NATO member countries to provide troops for Afghanistan and to extend NATO operations from the north into the west and eventually to the east and south, where U.S. troops were concentrated.

That position coincided with the interests of NATO’s military and civilian bureaucrats and those of the military establishments in the member countries.

ISAFmedia photo

Tags: Afghanistan, Gareth Porter, Gen. James Jones, International Security Assistance Force, NATO