By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 12, 2008 - NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is the most important issue facing NATO defense ministers -- including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates -- meeting here today, a top U.S. military official said. Border security is a topic of discussion, and the ministers also will examine the way forward not only with Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, but also the other six countries with which it shares borders, Navy Vice Adm. William D. Sullivan, the U.S. military representative to NATO's military committee, said.
"The difficulty in the eastern and southern border with Pakistan is well understood, particularly along the loosely governed areas -- if you can even take it that far -- of the federally administered tribal areas," Sullivan said.
More ISAF forces will be needed to deal with the border problems, Sullivan said. The United States has been leading the way in encouraging other alliance members to contribute more forces, but the manpower isn't in place there now, he said.
The Combined Joint Statement of Requirements -- a NATO document that lays out the military requirement for every operation -- shows the operation in Afghanistan is still three battalions short. "One of those battalions is meant to be a force that would secure the border," Sullivan said.
NATO's most important role is to provide the security and stability that will allow the other pillars of security in Afghanistan to succeed, the admiral said. Organizations are working to build governance and the economy. The security NATO ISAF provides helps the central government in Kabul extend its reach to all the provinces and provide what the people of any nation would expect from a central government, he added.
"It's not a purely military solution; it's a combined solution," the admiral said. "You need the other elements to come together in conjunction with the security to achieve your goals. But security is the vital part of that, because things can't happen without a safe and secure environment."
Sullivan said the ISAF commander's assessment is that the problems in Afghanistan can be addressed, but it will take longer without more troops. "It will likely result in more casualties to allied troops in the time it takes to achieve these goals without more forces," he said.
Roughly 52,700 troops from 40 countries are in ISAF today. "We've actually had more forces generated even since Bucharest," Sullivan said.
And more have been promised, he added. France, the United Kingdom and Poland will ship more forces to the country along with smaller numbers of troops from other nations.
"The total footprint has grown by about 8,000 troops, including U.S. contributions," Sullivan said. "The U.S. has also committed, when we are capable, to providing more troops for Afghanistan."
NATO and U.S. leaders are concerned about Pakistan's negotiations with tribal elements in the federally administered areas, the admiral said. "We are concerned that the Pakistani military may be pulling troops out of the region," he said. "We are concerned that the agreements allow the opposing militant forces the opportunity to regroup, resupply, retrain themselves. So we think it gives some breathing room for those groups without being threatened by troops on the border."
Sullivan said the alliance has made progress in reducing the number of restrictions that hamper ISAF operations in Afghanistan. Some countries send troops to Afghanistan but put limits, or caveats, on how they can be used. Most of these caveats are a result of legislation in the home country; in others, they may be because of capabilities. For example, some national forces cannot be used at night. Others cannot be used in certain areas or in performing certain missions.
"We have encouraged all countries to send their troops to Afghanistan with no caveats," Sullivan said. "We would like to see, and so would the commander on the ground, forces that are completely flexible and used whenever and wherever they are needed, depending on what the commander on the ground determines."
Improvements have been made in this area, Sullivan said, but caveats still limit the commander's flexibility "if there are certain troops that he can't use for certain things or can't send to certain areas."