Foreign Policy Blogs

Gates Criticizes NATO Countries For Moving to Pull Out of Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ pointed critique of NATO’s run toward the exits in Afghanistan was a much needed corrective to all the lead laden diplomatic talk in Brussels, Washington D.C. and Kabul. (You can find a complete transcript of his remarks here.)

The war is a strategic draw nearly 10 years out; leaving now, and so in a rush, would destroy nearly all the gains grabbed since President Obama and his general’s reoriented the combat mission in Afghanistan toward a somewhat more successful counterinsurgency strategy.  Though counterinsurgency or COIN is not a winning strategy, it has kept the Taliban at bay and have proved less objectionable than the previous full-on military combat mission.

Now, just as so much seems to be going wrong in Afghanistan-from ginned up constitutional crises, to wide-net banking failures, to a public row over civilian casualties in the nearly ten-year old war, NATO countries that had supported President Bush’s call to war, are now pulling their troops back home, partly in response to challenges in their domestic politics.

Secretary Gates, at a closed door session at NATO headquarters in Brussels said:

“Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right. “Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about continuing the fight. Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave.”

In a more resolute move, signalling that though politics is rancorous in the United States as well, American forces would stick it out.  He rang out:

“We will not sacrifice the significant gains made to date, or the lives lost, for a political gesture. In return, we expect the same from your nations.”

Next to the people and government of Afghanistan, the U.S. is by far the largest stakeholder in that country’s political and economic development–and all that turns on stronger, more beefed domestic security and local well trained armed forces.  That set, the initial idea went, the U.S and NATO could pull out of Afghanistan by 2014.  The deal struck between the NATO allies was that the U.S. would lead the combat mission while other NATO countries, including the United Kingdom, would train Afghan forces to take control upon NATO disengagement.

Now with this talk of removing combat troops within the year, the plan that the NATO allies only recently drew up  to leave by 2014 is doomed to failure.  If the NATO countries called on to train Afghan troops leave, that will require the U.S. to spread its thinning troops presence in a more ad hoc manner.  Indeed, its not too much to think that under this scenario the Afghan troops may well not be trained–much less trained well–before the planned final draw down deadline in 2014.

Sink or swim then, together, all that once, Secretary Gates seemed to say.  Signaling just that he urged his fellow NATO defense ministers to have a long-term program for Afghanistan.  He ended what may well be his last speech to his fellow NATO defense ministers with the fallowing call for cooperation:

“So I ask today, as we consider our national decisions going forward, that we abide by the principle of in together, out together.  An Afghanistan that is secure, self-reliant and on the path toward stability will benefit our collective security for years to come, but we need time to allow the process to work.  I urge us all to keep this in mind; resist the urge to do what it is politically expedient and have the courage of patience.”



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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