NATO boosts support to Afghanistan war; Falls short of goal

After months of lobbying NATO allies to increase their troop contributions and support to the war in Afghanistan, the alliance came up short Thursday, meeting a bit more than 90 percent of the military requirements mapped out by commanders, according to NATO officials.

U.S. military leaders, however, said they have been encouraged by the continuing discussions with several nations, who may eventually agree to increase their commitments.

"Coming out of today, it won't be at 100 percent today," said U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's top military officer. "We're still in discussion with more than a few nations that are looking at an increase above the initial one given at the force generation conference. So, I'm encouraged."

The gap, said Gen. John Nicholson, top U.S. commander for Afghanistan, has contributed to the lowest level of capabilities and the "highest level of risk we faced" in the 16-year war.

Nicholson and Scaparrotti declined to provide details on the numbers, but other NATO officials confirmed that coming out of the meeting Thursday there would be a shortfall approaching 10 percent. The officials weren't authorized to discuss the numbers publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

NATO defense ministers are meeting here to provide their countries' latest decisions on troop contributions, under pressure from U.S. and NATO leaders to beef up their commitments. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent letters to some allies in recent weeks urging them to fill critical gaps.

The additional trainers are critical to reaching the stated U.S. and NATO goal of building up the Afghan forces so that they can take control of their own country's security. At the same time, officials want to use the increased military pressure to force Taliban leaders to the peace table.

Scaparrotti told reporters that, at the end of the day, there will still be a need for additional trainers and advisers, particularly at schools for Afghan forces.

"This is a complex world and there's a lot of demand on the military, and so all these nations have to make hard choices between Afghanistan, internal responsibilities and other missions," Scaparrotti told reporters traveling with Mattis. "We also have budget constraints that each of the nations are dealing with. It's just a fact of life today."

Nicholson told reporters that that he needs close to 16,000 troops to fill the NATO training mission in Afghanistan. That number does not include other support missions or counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, Islamic State militants and other insurgents.

Nicholson said he is most concerned about getting enough trainers and advisers for the Afghan commandoes, the Air Force and the schools where the military and local police are trained. In addition, he said he has asked for more forces to provide security for the troops.

NATO officials said Thursday that they met their goal of 16,000 troops for Afghanistan. That success, however, is due in part to the increase in U.S. troop levels. Still, NATO and U.S. officials lauded those nations that came through with additional forces.

"Over two dozen nations have stated that they intend to raise the troop numbers that they have on the ground there now, including some very small nations for whom this is the largest overseas deployment they have been engaged in," Mattis said during a news conference at the close of the NATO meeting. "We appreciate their commitment to stabilizing the South Asia region."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO will stay in Afghanistan "as long as we deem it necessary," adding that it is impressive to see the continued commitment of the allies after 16 years. He acknowledged, however, that "we still have some gaps" in the troop commitments.

Nicholson said his aim is to get enough NATO and partner troops doing the broader training so that American forces can do other key military missions.

"My plan is to have U.S. forces focused on the things that only U.S. forces can do, so I would not like to have to divert U.S. forces to do things that allies could perform," he said. "We have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets that we've identified."

President Donald Trump in August outlined the new U.S. approach to the stalemated war, including in U.S. troops to train, advise and accompany local forces at the brigade level -- which the Afhgans call Kandaks. That puts U.S. forces closer to the fight, but enables them to better direct the smaller units in combat and provide additional airstrike and support capabilities.

Trump also said the U.S. would shift away from a "time-based" approach, and instead link assistance to results and to cooperation from the Afghan government, Pakistan and others.

Until now, there have been advisers with smaller Afghan special forces units. But the additional resources will allow allies to put advisers with smaller units of the Afghan conventional army.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Nation & World

Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say
Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say

Holiday shopping mania can make it easy to forget some common-sense rules to keep you and your belongings safe. Police recommend these tips before hitting the stores on Black Friday: 1. Remove valuables from view: After a successful shopping run, you should place and secure all holiday packages in your trunk, away from prying eyes. Thefts are...
This app could reduce the dangers of concussions in young athletes
This app could reduce the dangers of concussions in young athletes

Startup of the week: Who they are: PRIVIT What they do: Their app seeks to keep young athletes safer by helping coaches and trainers report and properly treat concussions and other injuries and medical conditions. Why it’s cool: There’s been plenty of buzz recently about the dangers of concussions in impact sports — including the...
The future is here: Augmented reality apps to use on iPhone or iPad

With the release of an updated mobile operating system in October, Apple’s new augmented reality platform is ready for take-off. The first generation of AR apps is available in Apple’s App Store, allowing millions of iPhone and iPad users to view three-dimensional computer-generated graphics on top of a user’s real-world view. With...
Why I’m skipping wireless charging on my iPhone 8 Plus

I’ve had the iPhone 8 Plus for about a month now, and while on launch day I thought I’d be most excited about wireless charging, I’ve found I’ve abandoned my wireless charger in favor of fast charging. I’ve come to like wireless charging when I’ve used Samsung’s phones, as it’s quite speedy, but Apple...
Rock out with sporty-designed headphones
Rock out with sporty-designed headphones

Listening to a Tom Petty music marathon is great, but making it better in my world was hearing the legendary music on the Soul X-TRA over-the-ear wireless (Bluetooth) headphones. The headphones smooth sound, comfort, and the sporty design were all much appreciated. The sound is promoted as “Advanced HD drivers and circuitry design for a balanced...
More Stories