ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, —
The NATO chiefs of defense discussed what the post-2014 alliance presence in Afghanistan will look like and how it could work, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after he’d attended two days of meetings that concluded today in Brussels.
Dempsey said the discussion about the post-2014 NATO presence in Afghanistan was lively and constructive.
There are a number of ways to structure the NATO presence that will remain in Afghanistan after the International Security Assistance Force mandate expires at the end of 2014. The NATO chiefs of defense looked at whether the alliance should take a regional approach to the train, advise and assist mission or should it be done at the institutional level, Dempsey said. At what level -- kandak, brigade, corps -- does it make sense to instruct? The need, he said, is different in different parts of the nation.
Each scenario has a different requirement for troops, equipment, bases and money. There are pros and cons for each and the chiefs will use these discussions to make recommendations to their civilian leaders. NATO defense ministers will gather in Brussels next month for their ministerial.
The defense chiefs heard from Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of NATO ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and the new Supreme Allied Commander – Operations, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who also leads U.S. European Command.
Dunford discussed the progress Afghan forces are making. Very shortly, Afghan forces will be in the lead and ISAF will be in support.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t get into a fight alongside them, but it does mean they will have the principal responsibility for security,” Dempsey said. “Sometime this summer, [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai will announce tranche 5 of the transition and that will be the one that takes the alliance through the end of 2014.”
The Military Committee did receive a briefing on where the Afghan Army and police are doing well and where they need work. How good do the Afghan forces need to be is a question the chiefs must ask. The Afghan security forces don’t need to be as good as the American military, they just have to possess the necessary skills to protect their people, the chairman said.
“In many places in Afghanistan they are ‘good enough’ today,” Dempsey said. “There are gaps, but we have 18 months to close those gaps.”
Earlier this year, the Taliban announced a great summer offensive -- something the Taliban say every year, he said.
“It is still harvest season in Afghanistan and I suspect we’ve not seen the height of this year’s offensive,” Dempsey said. “But this year, unlike years past, the offensive will be aimed at the ANSF not us, because, again, the Afghans will be in the lead.”
This fact changes and undermines the Taliban’s narrative, the general said.
“Their narrative has been they are fighting the western invader,” he said. “This year, they will be fighting their own people.”
The NATO chiefs were supposed to hear from Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He did not attend because of the elections in his country. Dempsey complimented Pakistan on the elections, which returned Nawaz Sharif as prime minister.
“I give a lot of credit to General Kayani and the Pakistan military for their behavior during the election, Dempsey said.
The chiefs also discussed ways to ensure NATO has the capabilities needed for the future.
“Just as our military is trying to think through how do we rekindle its capabilities across a broad spectrum of activities beyond COIN [counterinsurgency], the alliance is doing the same thing,” he said.
Dempsey also attended the May 13 Allied Command – Operations change of command where Breedlove took command from Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who is to retire.. Dempsey praised Stavridis for making the alliance more cohesive while still directing operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Kosovo.
The chairman welcomed Breedlove, noting that the Air Force pilot has had a number of tours in Europe and had many, many NATO wingmen.
“That is part of the benefit of our system where we immerse people in this important alliance,” Dempsey said.