24 November, 2006

NATO to discusss Afghanistan at Riga summit.

For some time, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general, has been telling anybody who will listen that, unless more coalition members allow their troops to be deployed in combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban could take control of the country and pose a serious threat to western nations by exporting Islamic terrorism. This week he has been talking to the Daily Telegraph about the possible consequences of the 50 caveats imposed by member states which prevent NATO deploying troops already in Afghanistan as reinforcements, however desperate the need.

I am absolutely convinced if we allowed Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban rule it would become failed state again and a black hole for terrorism training,” Mr Scheffer said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph at Nato headquarters in Brussels.

"Who knows that the terrorists are not going to hit nations that they have not yet hit.

”That’s why you see me very strongly motivated – that is the message I will give at Riga. What is our first priority? It is Afghanistan.”
Riga is a reference to this weekend's NATO summit in the Latvian capital, where the problems referred to in his interview are to be discussed by NATO heads of government, including President Bush.

Earlier this month, Scheffer discussed Riga at more length when addressing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NPA.) Here is a significant extract, relating to Afghanistan, from Scheffer's speech:
... in Afghanistan we have been tested like never before, including by suffering casualties. Our resources are stretched thin. And yet the demand for NATO will certainly grow further. So we must do our utmost to make sure that our Alliance continues to deliver....

NATO is about solidarity – and sharing burdens and risks. National caveats reflect a genuine and understandable concern of governments and parliaments for their soldiers. I know what it means having been an MP for 16 years. But – apart from restricting the ability of our military commanders to fulfil their mission - they also can be perceived as divisive. That’s why I urge you to engage with your governments in a discussion about the difficulties that caveats create. We all have to bear in mind, what these mean for our commanders in the field...

I hope they also bear in mind what it means for the troops in the field who are at the sharp end of those caveats' consequences.

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