NATO’s plan for military operations in Afghanistan up to and beyond 2014 will be the top agenda item at the organization’s May 20-21 summit in Chicago, a senior NATO official said.
Afghan forces are to take the security lead in operations throughout their country by the end of 2014, while International Security Assistance Force troop-contributing nations withdraw combat forces and assign trainers.
The alliance is now reviewing the number of forces Afghanistan will need beyond 2014, and how much other countries will pay to sustain them, Danish Army Gen. Knud Bartels, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said in Brussels May 11 during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.
While the Chicago summit will not be a funding meeting, several coalition nations have announced or are expected to announce their planned post-2014 monetary contributions for Afghan forces, Bartels said.
“There is substantial work ongoing on this issue,” he said. “Even though numbers have been circulating in the public and in the media, I think it’s too early to define with certainty at which level we will stabilize, in due time, the Afghan national security forces.”
Those forces are now surging and will soon reach the agreed-on cap of 352,000, Bartels noted.
“We’ll have to look at how we reduce in size, close to 2014,” he said, “and this, of course, will have to be correlated with the funding issue.”
Bartels said there will likely be “pretty strong indications coming out of Chicago” about NATO views on the question of future Afghan force size.
“What I expect out of Chicago is that the NATO nations and their partners in [the International Security Assistance Force] come to agreement as to how they see the strategy, post-2014, unfolding in relation to Afghanistan,” he said.
A number of nations, including France, Italy, Germany and the United States, have already signed bilateral strategic agreements with Afghanistan, Bartels said.
“You could say that the correlation of all those agreements [and] strategies will form the main part of the package … to support Afghanistan post-2014,” he said.
The general said the summit will also highlight NATO’s ongoing work to reshape the alliance’s military response capability. Much of what is needed to transform the organization has “already been taken care of,” he said, or is in progress. Changes include implementing a new command structure, adjusting the organization’s defense planning process, and extending the “smart defense” collaborative approach to buying and operating military equipment.
NATO will adopt a new, leaner and more-flexible command structure starting this year, Bartels said.
“We should be able to handle all types of operations,” he said. “It will also be smaller, and therefore make it possible for nations to [realize] savings, which can be reinvested in other areas.”
The alliance’s defense planning process, Bartels said, is designed to ensure that member nations bring the right forces to the group’s collective military formations.
“We are further refining that, and we may need to adjust that process,” he said.
NATO’s smart defense strategy aims to ensure the alliance can buy as much equipment as possible for the best-possible price and ensure interoperability, Bartels said.
“This will, of course, assist us to be able to cooperate on the future battlefield,” he said.
NATO forces in Afghanistan are well-trained, well-equipped and well-led for that specific operation, Bartels said.
“What the future will bring us – well, I don’t think any of us really knows,” he said. “Therefore we have to be ready to handle a broad spectrum of possible types of operation in the future.”
NATO needs to shape its force and equipment buys to support a “strong requirement” for side-by-side operations involving bigger forces, Bartels said. Future NATO military action will be joint and multinational, he noted, and preparing for that means changing mindsets and breaking paradigms to establish a collective approach to defense.
Bartels said he wants summit attendees and NATO leaders to keep in mind that service members are the foundation of the alliance’s success.
“We should never forget that the real work is being done by the men and women of the armed forces, deployed in operations,” he said. “I would like to … express my thanks to them for the work they’re doing.”