NATO military leaders are doing all they can to make sure the alliance does not run out of options for the post-2014 NATO mission in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Jan. 23.
During a military chiefs meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and the rest of the NATO chiefs of defense discussed delays caused by Afghan President Hamid Karzaiís refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States.
The agreement, and a separate NATO Status of Forces Agreement would give the alliance the legal justification for Operation Resolute Support, the train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan that would begin next year.
NATO officials want the agreements completed sooner rather than later, and at the Pentagon today, Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the United States would like to have the agreement signed “as soon as possible.”
Still, the alliance wont reach a point where we would be taking away from the possibility of the Resolute Support mission until sometime in the late spring [or]early summer, Dempsey said. Militarily, we always want to give our leaders options, and not box in our elected leaders.
The United States military is more agile than most, Dempsey said, and can hang on the longest. All the NATO allies have agreed to Resolute Support. Its not that our allies are saying, unless I hear by this date I cant make a commitment, he said.
The Italians, he said, need a clearer view of the outcome than we do because their system requires it.
And there are similar challenges among other contributing nations. There is genuine urgency to getting a decision, but to the extent that we can, [the military] doesnít want to be the limiting factor in our elected leaders selecting an option, Dempsey said.
The best metaphor Dempsey has heard came from a commander in Afghanistan in describing why a decision sooner is better than later. If you buy an airline ticket 90 days ahead of your planned travel it comes at a certain rate, he said. If you buy it a month before you travel itís more expensive and if you wait until the week before you leave, you are really going to pay a heavy price.
Planning for Resolute Support continues in Kabul with between 8,000 to 12,000 troops being considered for a mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and for institution building.
In fact, the NATO deployment in July will be at its core Resolute Support, said a senior International Security Assistance Force official speaking on background. There will be some additional troops around in July through September, but by October most of those will be gone.
This protects the decision space the president, the secretary general and coalition partners have, the official said.
Still, the official agreed that sooner is better than later. Karzai not signing the Bilateral Security Agreement stokes uncertainty in Kabul, and this causes hedging behavior in Afghanistan and the region.