The embattled country is also suffering a sharp economic slowdown.
NATO had hoped its summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday would
herald a smooth handover of security at the end of this year from
the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to
Afghan forces. It then plans to cut back its role to a smaller
mission to train and advise Afghan troops.
The 28-nation alliance had also hoped to celebrate Afghanistan's
first democratic transfer of power by inviting a new president to
share the spotlight with U.S. President Barack Obama and the other
27 allied leaders.
Instead, NATO diplomats privately admit that the backdrop to the
summit is the "worst case scenario".
A dispute over a presidential election marred by alleged fraud has
created a political vacuum which has sown doubts over whether NATO
will have a legal basis for leaving any troops in Afghanistan at all
after this year.
NATO diplomats were left guessing for weeks about who would
represent Afghanistan at the summit. In the absence of a new
president, outgoing President Hamid Karzai is staying away, leaving
Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi to represent Afghanistan.
Sending a lower-level representative rather than a new president
will undermine Afghanistan’s ability to argue for future Western
financial assistance, a U.S. official said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen put a brave face on the
situation at a Brussels news conference on Monday, declaring NATO
had achieved its goals in Afghanistan.
"We have done what we set out to do. We have denied safe haven to
international terrorists. We have built up capable Afghan forces of
350,000 troops and police. So our nations are safer, and Afghanistan
is stronger," he said.
But despite suffering heavy casualties and spending vast sums in
Afghanistan, NATO has failed in its key goal of bringing security to
the country, some analysts say.
On NATO's watch, there has been a "marked and measurable
deterioration of security", said Graeme Smith, senior analyst at the
International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank in Kabul.
NATO has also faced criticism over civilians killed in air strikes
or night raids.
Kabul residents nonetheless worry that the departure of foreign
forces could lead to worse violence or the return of the Taliban,
ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
“We need foreign forces in our country for more years,” said Sayed
Najibullah Hashimi, a hotel owner in Kabul. “There are lots of
improvements since they are in Afghanistan but, as Afghanistan is
not on its feet yet, we need them for longer. Their departure means
a start of another civil war, more emigration, and economic
Mohammad Rabih, 27, a student in Bakhtar university in Kabul, said
the NATO-led mission had been successful at first but ultimately
failed due to the lack of a plan and friction between Afghan and
"If international forces leave this country, it will turn to a
stronghold for Taliban and warlords and not only Afghanistan but the
world will pay for that," he said.
Afghan army Brigadier-General Asif Bromand, who heads a busy
military hospital in the restive eastern province of Paktia, told
Reuters last month it was too early to transfer security
responsibilities to Afghan forces. "In each and every aspect, the
Afghan army isn’t ready," he said.
SHIFT IN TACTICS
The United States intervened in Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda a
sanctuary after the September 11, 2001, attacks. NATO -- the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization -- took a peacekeeping role in Kabul in
2003, gradually extending it throughout the country.
Over the past 13 years, at least 16,000 civilians, nearly 3,500
foreign troops and thousands of Afghan soldiers and police have been
killed. In the first six months of 2014, civilian deaths and
injuries due to the war were up 24 percent over the same period last
year, according to the United Nations.
[to top of second column]
ISAF now commands some 44,000 troops from 48 nations, some of which
are not NATO members.
The Taliban, kicked out by the U.S. forces,
has fought back through a fierce insurgency and still poses a major
threat now that Afghan soldiers have taken the lead role for
No longer pinned down by U.S. air cover, Taliban fighters are
attacking Afghan military posts in larger numbers with the aim of
taking and holding ground, a shift from hit-and-run strikes with
posses of gunmen, explosives and suicide bombers.
Last month, a U.S. general was killed and more than a dozen people,
including a German general, were wounded in an insider attack by an
ICG's Smith said Afghanistan had seen improvements in health,
education and the economy since the U.S.-led intervention "but the
problem is that if you have a clinic in a remote outpost that gets
taken over by Taliban then it is not a lasting improvement."
There are also worries over the economic impact the departure of
foreign troops will have.
Economic growth slowed from 14.4 percent in 2012 to an estimated 3.6
percent in 2013 due to weaker consumer and investor confidence as
the country braced for the political and security transition,
according to a World Bank report in April.
The United States alone has spent $103 billion on rebuilding
everything from hospitals to security forces in Afghanistan, but
Kabul's modest finances make it unlikely it can afford to maintain
the projects in the future, a U.S. watchdog said in May.
The deadlock over the presidential election calls into question
whether NATO will be able to go ahead with its plans to keep a
smaller training and advisory mission in Afghanistan, called
"Resolute Support", after the end of this year.
U.S. and NATO officials say foreign troops cannot stay unless the
Afghan government signs two agreements providing a legal basis for
them to do so.
Karzai has refused to sign. Both warring presidential candidates,
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, say they would sign. However, if
the election deadlock drags on much longer, NATO officials say they
may be forced to take a decision to pull out NATO troops altogether
A senior NATO diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
this week that a decision on a complete pullout would have to be
taken about a month after the summit, if the legal documents had
still not been signed, because NATO needed time to close remaining
bases in the country.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the United States plans to
leave around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year. NATO military
planners are also looking to raise about 4,000 troops from other
NATO and partner nations, but there is some reluctance to offer
troops without the legal certainty.
(Additional reporting by Krista Mahr in Kabul and Missy Ryan in
Washington Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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