Afghan insurgency not spreading, NATO says
Published Sunday, February 3, 2008 10:27PM EST
NATO claims the Afghan insurgency is concentrated in about 10 per cent of the country and is not spreading.
"It is becoming increasingly clear that the insurgent movement is being contained," Lt. Col. Claudia Foss, a NATO spokeswoman, told a news conference in Kabul on Sunday.
She estimated that about 70 per cent of the violence occurs in that 10 per cent of Afghanistan.
The claim follows a week in which some pessimistic assessments of the situation in Afghanistan were released.
A U.S. study warned Afghanistan could become a "failed state" if the NATO mission failed there, and the development group Oxfam warned of a looming humanitarian crisis.
Canada is still digesting the results of the Manley panel's assessment of the Afghanistan mission, released Jan. 22.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this past week that he accepts the report's broad thrust -- including the recommendation that Canada exit the mission in February 2009 if NATO doesn't supply more help.
The report called for a 1,000-member battle group to help out the 2,500 Canadian soldiers serving in Kandahar province.
The Manley panel also called for more equipment, such as aerial drones and medium-lift helicopters.
Fen Hampson of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa told CTV's Question Period that the threat of a Canadian pullout has "set the cat amongst the pigeons" at NATO.
If Canada left, then the Netherlands would likely pull its troops out of Uruzgan province, just north of Kandahar, he said.
The report noted the many grim obstacles to success in Afghanistan:
- Regional instability;
- Slow progress on reconstruction and development;
- Mounting insecurity and violence; and,
- Corruption, criminality and increasing poppy production.
However, "the panel is convinced that Canadian objectives in Afghanistan are both honourable and achievable," the report said.
Kandahar is one of the most violent parts of Afghanistan. Canada has lost 78 soldiers and one diplomat since 2002, but its proportional losses are much higher than any of its NATO allies.
Britain is operating in Helmand province, another hot zone that sits next to Kandahar in the country's south.
In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Douglas Alexander, Britain's international development, called for greater sharing of the combat burden.
There are 39 nations participating in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, with 26 of those countries being NATO members.
France and Germany, both NATO members, have come under particular criticism for refusing to deploy their soldiers in high-conflict parts of Afghanistan.
"The alliance will hold together on this, but it's a frustrating time for the alliance," James Townsend of the Atlantic Council of the United States told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
However, "we can pass this test in Afghanistan," he insisted.
Political will remains a problem, and France and Germany have soldiers serving in other missions. But some smaller NATO countries could help out with more troops, Hampson said.
"I would hazard a guess it's likely to come from the Australians," he said, noting that country is pulling back from Iraq and would like to redeploy from its current Afghan mission.
Townsend said success in Afghanistan will come from civil reconstruction, and many parts of the country are stable enough to allow such work to proceed.
But much depends on the NATO forces "doing the bull work to allow (Afghanistan) to proceed," he said.
Hampson noted that Afghanistan was relatively peaceful right after the Taliban's overthrowal in late 2001.
Much of the problems people see now stem from neglect in that early period, he said.
"The real challenge for (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper is to sell the mission to Canadians ... and to get Canadians to understand there isn't a quick fix," Hampson said.
With files from The Associated Press