Afghan Snails and NATO Plans

Sean Carberry, reporting from the Afghan Election Commission compound in Kabul, perfectly sums up the only good news in his second paragraph before describing in detail what a mess the audit is.

While this is moving at a snail’s pace, at least the process hasn’t broken down completely.

The snail’s pace, however, is a major problem for NATO.

Monday, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that NATO would need to make a decision soon on how to proceed in (or out, really) of Afghanistan. The September 4-5 NATO Summit in Wales, four weeks away, stands as a likely deadline for NATO leaders to make tough decisions. Rasmussen noted that without a signed security arrangement between Afghanistan and the US & NATO, foreign troops have no legal standing to remain in the country. Obama’s 9,800-troop plan, outlined to some derision in May, depends on a signed bilateral security arrangement.

NATO isn’t the only one with a deadline in mind. Afghanistan’s outgoing President Hamid Karzai has set a deadline for the inauguration of a new Afghan President. Election officials, and reporters such as Carberry, however are doubtful the recount will be complete before September. Would Karzai stay on? Would he step down? Who would mind the fort while the politicians dickered?

Hopefully, NATO’s logistictians have already begun planning. Getting NATO’s 44,000 troops (including 30,000 Americans) out of the country with their billions in equipment is no small task under ideal circumstances. Present global conditions are far from ideal. The impact of the West’s ongoing confrontation with Russia over Ukraine will undoubtedly spillover into the politics of the pullout.

The Northern Distribution Network(NDN) was devised to give NATO an alternative to Pakistan for getting in and out of Afghanistan. Longer and costlier than the Pakistan route, it has served the alliance in a pinch. Two of the three NDN routes rely on crossing through more than 1000 miles of Russian territory. While in the past Russian interests were served by the US war in Afghanistan it is hard to imagine a NATO train passing pleasantly through Russia at this point in time.

The only thing that could make the situation worse is if Pakistan shut down the border, again. I pity NATO’s logistics staff.


Image from the US Army, Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald.

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