Europe needs an Afghan surge, too

Europe should launch its own Afghan surge to complement America’s military push


Europe needs an Afghan surge, too

Europe should launch its own Afghan surge to complement America’s military push.

The United States has an exit strategy in Afghanistan. So claimed President Barack Obama on Friday, as he unveiled a plan to assert greater control over the conflict, which will see the US step up attacks against insurgents and launch a “civilian surge” to strengthen the Afghan state.

Serious consideration should be paid to Europe’s response. It will be seen in Washington as a litmus test of whether the EU is a serious strategic long-term partner.

So far, Europe’s collective contribution to the so-called ‘AfPak challenge’ has been disappointing, its impact in Afghanistan limited. To its credit, the EU expressly delivers through the Afghan government – but it does not deliver much. Indeed, it is doing a lot less in Afghanistan than it could – and a lot less than the situation merits or requires.

This need not be the case. European governments can – and should – invest much more effort in the region. The EU is not able to match the coming US military surge, but it can provide a complementary civilian boost. Indeed, what it can do in the coming months is shape its own Afghan ‘surge’.

With a few exceptions – such as the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, some of the newer EU members and, latterly, France – EU countries have contributed far too few combat-ready troops. Other EU governments may be unwilling to provide more firepower, but there are other ways in which they can boost their support for Afghanistan.

Again, though, their efforts have been disappointing. Despite paying lip service to the importance of non-military support, many member states have not provided any staff for the EU and UN missions. Some, such as Austria, Belgium, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, have no staff in the EU police mission. Others, like France, Estonia and Sweden, have seconded only one or two people.

Meanwhile, the EU’s police-and-justice mission, launched in mid-2007, remains dwarfed by the US police reform programme, and has achieved little. It amounts to little more than emblazoning with the EU flag a few hundred existing national assets, while EU police trainers are falling over each other in Kosovo.

Beyond flag-waving

To bolster the Afghan police, the EU should provide a minimum of 500 extra police trainers, hiring them on the open market, if necessary. Police officers operate at the point of corruption and will succumb unless they are made subject to the rule of law.

Afghanistan also needs a functioning justice system, if its people are to feel secure and fairly treated. Local indigenous justice offers an opportunity. Europol, along with culturally sensitive partners, must build and deploy the resources to develop a basic system of law throughout the country.

The overall aim should be to launch a more systematic outreach to insurgency groups. To achieve this, the presidential elections must be safeguarded from both insurgents and fraud.

One way to ensure this is for Hamid Karzai, in line with the constitution, to resign when his mandate runs out in spring, and for Abdullah Salaam Azeemi, the chief justice, to replace him in a caretaker capacity until the elections. The EU should also launch a large election-observer mission. To guarantee security, NATO should deploy its Rapid Response Force.

After the elections, EU governments must push for both reconciliation and constitutional change, to decentralise the dysfunctional state and offer new modes of representation and power at local levels.

But Europe cannot just assume a civilian role. Security-sector reform is essential to any sustainable future for Afghanistan. The training of the Afghan army must improve. In particular, the EU should offer to establish a Military Advisory Force of up to 2,000 troops. This would give ISAF a more flexible capability which would allow them to maximize the experience of their own trainers. A Military Advisory Centre should be created to co-ordinate training.

As well as improving their capacity to train the Afghan National Army at the tactical level, European governments should take control of the army’s higher education (such as non-basic training) by giving support to the Afghan National Army Training Command. A new, largely European-staffed NATO Training Mission should be launched for the purpose.

Looking to the horizon

These measures could be boosted by increased and long-term aid commitment, and a new approach to counter-narcotics, including the creation of a UN Serious Crimes Tribunal in Kabul or the region which could begin prosecuting high-level drug offenders.

Finally, European governments must help to shore up the Pakistani government. For example, they could launch a police reform programme in the critical North-West Frontier Province. To demonstrate that its assistance to Islamabad is not only about security, the EU should lobby for – and, if necessary, staff and fund – a new UN “assistance envoy” for Pakistan, who could start preparing a donors’ conference to be held later this year.

Europe has underinvested in the Afghan mission for years. With the coming US surge, the Afghan elections looming, and failure in the region a real danger, it needs to change course. Not only is it in Afghanistan’s interest, it is also in Europe’s.

Des Browne MP is a former UK secretary of state for defence. Daniel Korski is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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