A Big Hand for Slovenia!

Liberation operates a clutch of good blogs; as well as AFOE Satin Pajama nominee Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles, which everyone knows, there’s also an absolutely cracking blog on French and European national security issues.

They point out here that Slovenia, which took over as holder of the EU presidency on the 1st of January, is militarily the tiniest of states, with a total of 7,349 men in arms, one ship, a dozen Pilatus turboprop planes and 4 Cougar helicopters. It’s got to be one of the few good points about the rotating presidency that it is unrivalled in its ability to distribute power on the international stage to states this small and otherwise unknown.

On the other hand, though, as Secret Defense also points out, the EU is still struggling to put together the promised peacekeeping mission to Chad. The problems are essentially that the member states are not forking out to provide enough support helicopters and tactical transport aircraft to support the force in part of the world with essentially no infrastructure. There is not really a shortage of choppers; even Slovenia has four, right? However, they are one of those assets which is always in short supply; national armies are very unwilling to part with them.

The UK, meanwhile, is faced with a highly helivorous commitment in Afghanistan which has led it to buy Merlins from Denmark and Portugal in order to form another Naval helicopter squadron. It’s hard to see a specifically European solution to this; it certainly seems sensible that countries like Slovenia might contribute cash (as they will soon be a net contributor) rather than maintain a micro-air force, but this is always going to be a hard sell. There’s also an argument that dispersing these capabilities among smaller states means they will be more available for EU tasks; Austria isn’t likely to invade Iraq. What say the comments?

Afghanistan, seen from Berlin

The Globalist’s Stephan Richter weighs the pros and cons, difficulties and opportunities of an increased German military involvement in Southern Aghanistan and comes to the – in my opinion correct – conclusion that increased combat participation is much less a domestic policy problem than it is usually thought to be.

It’s a tricky question because the American example of nation-building as exercised in Afghanistan is not a particularly convincing one … The Germans truly believe in a different concept. It basically says that, in the long run, you cannot quell violence unless there is a bright future on the horizon. … But since Germans rightfully believe that there is good reason not to let Afghanistan slip back into a state of lawlessness and anarchy, they have to embrace an enlarged role — which implies more sacrifices. However, this must be part of a well thought – out strategy and not only another quick fix.

Solidarity with allies in the common fight is of utmost importance, but what do you do if you’re responsible for the lives of the soldiers you send, believe the common strategy to be seriously flawed, endanger the results achieved in the North, but you don’t really have the clout to change it? Exactly. You send some planes.

Afghanistan: the forgotten war

Just a small reminder (emphasis mine):

Last week, 17 British soldiers, 10 Estonian infantrymen, 100 Afghan army and 100 Afghan police took part in a joint Nato operation to retake the dusty desert town of Garmser in southern Helmand. The town, which sits on the Helmand river, has fallen to the Taliban twice since July and is strategically important because it is the southern-most point of government control.

When the fighting finally finished earlier this week, the event merited a one-and-a-half line press release from the Afghan government: “Garmser retaken by Afghan police after five hours fighting.”

That did little justice to what was actually an unrelenting six-day battle, as British journalists discovered when they accompanied the British Army unit during its assault on Garmser.

The Dutch are going to Afghanistan

Most of you will have read the news by now, but I need to mention this to complete my earlier post The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Dutch Parliament voted yesterday, with a substantial majority, to send some 1,200 more troops to Afghanistan. More precisely to the dangerous province of Uruzgan. Only D66, the SP (Socialist Party) and GroenLinks (Green leftist party) voted against, but D66 has already declared it will back the troops regardless. Good on them.

Some 7,500 soldiers will be prepared for reconstruction and stabilisation activities under the umbrella of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). The first extra troops will be sent in August and the whole operation is slated to be in effect for two years. In the foreign press, on the BBC News site for instance, the extra number of Dutch soldiers to be stationed in Afghanistan is often estimated at 1,400 troops. So far the Dutch press have only mentioned 1,200. To recapitulate: the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan will be enlarged by 1,200 soldiers coming from a rotating pool of 7,500 (source: the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf). To be continued, for sure.

UPDATE: Salient detail: fraction leader for Democrats 66, Boris Dittrich, just resigned over the Afghanistan debate. Lousewies van der Laan will replace him. Dittrich took responsibility for, and I quote, “political-tactical mistakes”. One of those mistakes was a, later recanted, threat by D66 to let the Dutch Cabinet “fall” if troops were sent to Afghanistan. The reason behind all this manoeuvring? To persuade coalition partner PvdA (Dutch labour party) to vote against. As we know now, that tactic did not work.

The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan

The Netherlands is talking about sending an additional 1,200 troops to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. The Dutch already have 540 people working in Afghanistan under the umbrella of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peace mission and another 674 under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. For other Dutch international deployments look here.

Why is it hard for the Dutch to finally make good on a promise their government made back on December 22nd 2005?
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From Herat: a relief I didn’t know I needed…

Just a few minutes ago I came back from the so called “Mobile Bar”, the weekly social get together of the internationals working with the different NGOs or other international organizations. And let me tell you something: You would not belief the kind of relief I felt right the minute I came to the rooms of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who hosted the event today. People, male and female, were chatting to each other, music was playing loudly, alcohol was served – if you wanted it, and the headscarves were abandoned right at the door.
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Afghanistan, how art thou

Dusty Herat
Dust. It’s everywhere. On your body, in your eyes, your hands never feel clean and clean clothes never stay like that for more than an hour. At night, visibility sometimes is less than 50 meters. And during the day, the city vanishes under a cloud of beige.
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Herat, Afghanistan, 4 years after.

Nation building in failed states can be a little tricky, as not just a few political strategists are realising these days. With respect to Iraq, the deadly result of their misconceptions can be watched on the hour every hour. This, on the other hand, has, for better or worse, reduced the world’s attention devoted to Afghanistan, the other major construction site. Afghanistan is still a country worn and torn by decades of internal and external warfare, ethnic, religious strife, a country where traditional social structures and modernity clashed harshly, wether it was modernity disguised as Imperialism, Communism, or Islamism.
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Germany Not An Immigrant Country?

This is the opinion of Hamburg State Interior Minister Udo Nagel, as interview for an article which appears in the English version of Der Spiegel today. The context for the quote is the implementation of a decision taken at a conference of German state interior ministers last November which determined that Afghanistan was now sufficiently stable for the 58,000 Afghan refugees currently living in Germany to start returning home. 10 months later, that decision is finally being acted upon and as Der Spiegel reports Hamburg is taking the lead. Hamburg is home to some 15,000 Afghan refugees — the largest such population in Germany — and the city state plans to deport 5,000 of them over the next two years.

Nagel, for his part, makes no apologies for the deportations. He insists that Germany has fulfilled its duty to Afghan refugees and is proud of his nation’s asylum policy. The bottom line, he insists, is that Afghanistan is now safe. He even paid a short visit to the country before the ban on repatriation was lifted in May this year. “When a crisis has passed, and emergency assistance is no longer required, then refugees should return, because their country needs them to help the reconstruction,” he says.

Nagel also notes that the twice weekly flight to Kabul from Frankfurt was booked solid with holidaymakers throughout August. His point is clear: Afghans who have been granted permanent residency in Germany are happy to return to their homeland. The others are just trying to exchange their refugee status for immigrant status. Then, puffing on his trademark pipe, he repeats a line cited often by German conservatives: “Germany is not a country of immigration


Looking at this in the context of the recent debate in Germany about Turkey and the EU, and in the context of Germany’s inability to avail itself of the recent wave of migration from the new EU accession countries, I cannot but feel – looking at the age pyramid of the German population – that a mistake of historic proportions is being made right before our eyes.

The ‘Eastern’ Alliance

An alliance of Russia, China and central Asian nations called today for the U.S. and coalition members in Afghanistan to set a date for withdrawing from member states.

he Shanghai Cooperation Organization, at a summit in the Kazakh capital, said in a declaration that a withdrawal date should be set in light of what it said was a decline of active fighting in Afghanistan.

“We support and will support the international coalition which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilize the situation,” the declaration said.

“As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition’s members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents’ presence in those countries,” the declaration continues.

Now what was it Brad Setser was saying about why the Unocal bid was important?