By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 18, 2007 – NATO countries have still not manned the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to promised levels, the commander of the force said here today. U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill said he does not have promised critical capabilities. "NATO has not manned this force to the level it said it would man it," he said.
The general said the command is short on "helicopters, maneuver troops, aeromedical evacuation, some medical, and some intelligence apparatus."
When NATO assumed control of security operations in Afghanistan, the United States provided a "bridging force" with these assets until NATO forces could arrive. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates later extended the stay of the bridging force for six months. "We would be in a lot -- a lot -- more difficult position without the bridging force," McNeill said.
"In the meantime, there are five to seven countries that could contribute more helicopters but, to date, have not done so. We have proposed that perhaps if we are not going to get helicopters from member nations that they should put money up and we could hire local indigenous helicopters, not to move NATO soldiers, but cargo," he said.
To an extent that is already happening with U.S. funding in Regional Command East, but the same capability is needed in Regional Command South.
In addition, the general said he is short four battalions of maneuver troops. The British have said they will place a battalion in the south by the end of the year, but this doesn't help the situation today. "We're an interim force here to be sure," he said. "We're here to buy the Afghan national security forces the space and time needed to take responsibility for their own nation."
One bedrock tenet of counterinsurgency warfare is that indigenous troops are the best forces to use, McNeill said, adding that the Afghan forces show mixed success.
"We're a long way from having an effective police force here," he said. "By my reckoning that's at least two years away."
He said the Afghan National Army is much better, but it is smaller and has to control a larger population and larger land mass than in Iraq. That is where the International Security Assistance Force comes in. Until the Afghan army grows in strength and capabilities, NATO and its allies must help secure the nation, McNeill said. He stressed that NATO nations must come through with the forces needed.
The general said national caveats that some forces work under also hamstring the international force. National governments place restrictions on how their forces can be used in Afghanistan. For example, some forces cannot be used for offensive operations. "In effect, caveats do not allow us in this headquarters to make the most efficient and effective application of the force," McNeill said.