NATO confronts mistakes made in Afghanistan

NATO confronts mistakes made in Afghanistan

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Lisbon over the past weekend witnessed important presentations and discussions about how the nearly 20-year engagement of the alliance in Afghanistan ended in a major collective failure.

A session chaired by Utku Çakırözer, a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly from the ranks of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has largely addressed the Afghanistan tragedy, which is being reflected in different ways and scopes in almost all NATO countries.

John Manza, the assistant secretary-general for operations, attended the session and provided important insights and assessments about the mistakes committed by the alliance that resulted in the Taliban takeover of all of Afghanistan.

For the senior official, the biggest and first mistake of the alliance was the absence of a wide-eyed discussion about the level of interest of Afghanistan for the alliance and member countries while planning the mission in the early 2000s.

“First of all, when democracies go to war, I think it is important that there is a wide eye discussion about the level of the interest of the place that we are going to war in. In U.S. terms, we are talking about survival interest, vital interest and peripheral interest,” Manza said.

Afghanistan could be described as a place with peripheral interest “that we would normally not expect to be deploying forces to fight for,” he added. In a theater where the level of interest is so low, missions like nation-building and bringing development and democracy are not possible, according to Manza.

In the early years of NATO engagement, the alliance had a small mission primarily focused on fighting terrorism and deployed only in and around Kabul, but the scope and scale of the mission have outgrown over the years. Not enough discussions have been made over how to exit when you have tens of thousands of troops in the field, the official stated.

Another important problem regarding the Afghanistan mission cited by Manza was the decision-making process at NATO. “Reporting process at NATO needs some refinement,” he stressed, claiming that the field reports coming from the SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) with good recommendations were delayed weeks and even months at the military committee and the operations body.

Plus, they were being “watered down” before coming to the NATO Council where the leaders meet to decide about the course of the mission in Afghanistan.

Another finding voiced by the official was about the lack of exchange and consultation between the allies. Instead of flexible consultations, diplomats were just reading prepared statements and avoiding exchanges, he suggested, saying that generals were even much more flexible and open to a free talk in comparison to diplomats.

The senior official also informed that he was leading a team for writing a substantial report about the lessons learned from the nearly twenty-year mission of the alliance in Afghanistan that would serve the future leaders of NATO so that they won’t make the same mistakes.

The final report, he stressed, will be put to the assessment of the NATO foreign ministers when they meet in December in Riga.