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Terrorism & Security

Senators challenge White House approach on Afghanistan

Foreign Relations Committee hearing comes a day after the release of two critical reports.

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The hearing comes amid concerns that the NATO forces in Afghanistan need reinforcements to fulfill their mission. The Associated Press reports that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent a letter to Germany requesting that another 3,200 German troops be sent to Afghanistan.

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According to the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, the one-and-a-half-page-long, undated letter to Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung arrived last week. In it, Gates specifically asks Germany to drop caveats limiting its troops to the north of Afghanistan and to send helicopter units, infantry and paratroopers that could join the fight against Taliban militants in the south, the paper reported without citing the letter. ...
...such a direct request from Washington is sure to spark fierce debate in Germany, which already has some 3,000 troops serving in the relatively peaceful north, amid growing public skepticism about the mission.

Bloomberg reports that German officials said they "have no plans" to fulfill Gates' request.

Meanwhile, Canwest News Service writes that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Britain and the US that Canada would withdraw its 2,500 soldiers from the NATO mission in Kandahar unless another 1,000 soldiers were committed to the operation. "Without that, Canada's mission will end in a year's time," warned a Canadian official.

And in an editorial page essay for the Washington Post, Victoria Nuland, the US ambassador to NATO, writes that in Afghanistan, NATO "is facing the greatest challenge in its 59-year history."

The alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War is learning on the job. Just as the Iraq war forced adaptation in American military and development tactics and strategy, the Afghanistan mission is forcing changes in NATO. With each passing month, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, Latvians and our other allies learn more about what it takes to wage a 21st-century counterinsurgency -- a combined civil-military effort that puts warriors side by side with development workers, diplomats and police trainers. Whether flying helicopters across the desert, embedding trainers with the Afghans, conducting tribal shuras with village elders or running joint civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams, most of our allies are reinventing the way they do business. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear last month, this requires new training, new equipment, a new doctrine and new flexibility in combining civil and military efforts in a truly comprehensive approach to security.
The next three to five years will be crucial for the people of Afghanistan, for the NATO alliance and for the community of democracies. The Afghanistan mission is an investment in our collective security; it is also the catalyst for the 21st-century transformation of our democratic alliance. If we can get it right in the Hindu Kush, we will also be stronger the next time we are called to defend our security and values so far from home.

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