From halls of NATO, defense of drawdowns
Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with Captain Mark Tutton (C) and Lieutenant Colonel Judin (R), commander of the 3rd Afghan Brigade at the multinational base at Tarin Kot in southern Afghanistan in October 2010.
April 17th, 2012
02:09 PM ET

From halls of NATO, defense of drawdowns

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's Wolf Blitzer sits down with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an exclusive interview airing Wednesday, April 17 at 4pET on Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

By Elise Labott reporting from Brussels

As foreign and defense ministers gather here for the last big meeting before next month's NATO summit in Chicago, NATO officials are pushing back on the notion that countries with troops in Afghanistan are headed for the exits.

The denials come as Australia announced Tuesday its more than 1,500 soldiers could begin pulling out of Afghanistan in the coming months, and the majority of them may leave the country by the end of next year.

That timetable puts Australian forces on a quicker withdrawal schedule than Prime Minister Julia Gillard had previously described. In a speech to Parliament in November, she said the transition in the southern Uruzgan province, where most of the Australian troops are concentrated, might well be completed before the end of 2014.

Australia's drawdown comes on the heels of an announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in February that the United States hoped to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013, transitioning primarily to a training role as Afghan forces take more responsibility for security. Britain, France and Germany all made similar pledges to begin an early drawdown, saying they intend to hand over their security operations to local forces by the end of 2013.

Some countries, like Canada and Norway, have already pulled out most of their troops.

So what gives with the early drawdowns? Is it war fatigue and the war's growing unpopularity in countries that are contributing troops that has NATO's International Security Assistance Force countries running for the hills?

Not so much, insist NATO officials. They maintain the trend was expected and signals the coalition's growing confidence in the country's fighting forces and the transition to Afghan security control.

Do the math, the NATO officials say. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce in coming months that Afghan troops will begin the process of assuming a leading security role in a third tranche of provinces, including Uruzgan, a transition that should take 12 to 18 months. As the sources point out, that schedule for when Afghan forces are expected to have full security responsibility for the province matches the 2013 date announced by Australia. This, they say, is the transition at work.

Indeed, in her remarks on the drawdown, Gillard highlighted the progress made by Afghan troops, notably in Uruzgan. Plus, she noted Australia isn't cutting and running after 2013. Gillard said Australia is prepared to maintain a training role with the Afghan army and police even after the 2014 date when NATO expects Afghanistan to assume full responsibility for security.

While the first two tranches of transitioning to Afghans taking the security lead have gone pretty smoothly, the third batch might prove more difficult. The first two handovers were in areas where there was a light ISAF footprint to begin with. Now that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, Karzai is moving to areas that are more problematic, but doing so while ISAF forces are still on the ground to help.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Choad

    That guy in the middle looks fucking in-bred.

    April 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  2. mipolitic

    australia is pulling out a year ahead of earlier posted date of 2014 , france is leaving by years end , and so some see the mission as a failure on political level to continue this action against the will of the people back home in their countries. thr peoples voice is loud and clear , PULL OUT OF THIS HELL HOLE

    April 18, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
  3. Engsoldier78

    Cheese Wonton,
    You apparantely have no clue about NATO yourself. I served under NATO in Kosovo in KFOR twice. NO ACTION TALK ONLY is exactly right. Just because the other members of NATO have Infantry, Engineers, etc. doesn't mean they are used the same as American forces. But you wouldn't know that as a pilot and not a grunt or Sapper. (The Aussie's are awesome though!)

    April 18, 2012 at 8:42 am | Reply
  4. Otto

    Since when is Australia in NATO?

    The acronym "NATO" stands for:
    a) No Action Talk Only
    b) Needs Alcohol To Operate
    c) Nothing After Two O'Clock

    With the exception of some east block units, Europeans are inept at combat. It's not their soldiers fault. Their politicians signed them up for the European Human Rights Convention, which pretty much says, "You may wear uniforms, but don't fight."

    April 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      Otto, did you ever serve in the military? Did you ever work with any of the NATO armed forces or those of Australia or Japan? You might be surprised then at how wrong your opinion of NATO military forces are. Some NATO militaries are larger than others, as some NATO nations have populations as low as 5 million, but the equipment standard and training are uniformly high, and certainly better than those of any of our adversaries.
      Since we are down temporarily to only ten aircraft carriers from eleven, the French Navy has been sending thier aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean, freeing our Navy to send our carriers to other places, and the French Navy air group pulls duty providing air support for NATO forces in Afghanistan. They use the same procedures and much of the same armament as our forces and are basically interchangable with ours. Even the Swedish Army has had a battalion of infantry in Afghanistan, and they are supposedly neutral.
      It's easy to talk down to European militaries when you know nothing. When you have worked with them and you know them, it is a bit harder to disparage their hard work. They bleed and die just like we do. That Norwegian officer who was killed last year when a UN compound was bombed in Afghanistan? Her name was Siri Skare and I went through part of flight school with her. The US Navy trains Norway's P-3 Orion and C-130 pilots. She was Norway's first female military pilot and she was very competent. I remember her well because she was actually pretty lonely, yet she endured and made a very successful career for herself, tragically ended by some Taliban dirtbag who didn't have a tenth of the education and training she had.

      April 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
      • Engsoldier78

        Cheese Wonton,
        You apparantely have no clue about NATO yourself. I served under NATO in Kosovo in KFOR twice. NO ACTION TALK ONLY is exactly right. Just because the other members of NATO have Infantry, Engineers, etc. doesn't mean they are used the same as American forces. But you wouldn't know that as a pilot and not a grunt or Sapper. (The Aussie's are awesome though!)

        April 18, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • reality

      otto,

      Kill that western Christian terrorist and his allies who was responsible for deaths 77 people than only you will have some point.

      April 17, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • Bill

      Yes Otto Have your ever served in NATO????? I have and totally agree ALL TALK AND NO ACTION!!!!!!!!

      April 18, 2012 at 10:01 am | Reply

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