On the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit last week, President Bush urged NATO allies to do more to tackle the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, saying member nations "must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful." There is no doubt that more needs to be done to secure, stabilize, and rebuild Afghanistan, but Bush’s words really just prove how unstable the situation in the Middle East has become. With Iraq nearing a civil war – many leaders, including Bush’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are already calling it one – and Afghanistan the major focus of last week’s NATO Summit, it is time for Bush to make drastic changes in his Middle East policy.
In Afghanistan, where the United States has sent some 11,500 troops to capture Bin Laden, oust the Taliban, and support their burgeoning government, drastic troop and spending increases are needed. Currently 37 countries have some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan being led by NATO – and it’s nowhere near enough. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer have echoed Bush’s call for European nations to step up their commitments and ease the burdens on the US, Canada, Britain, and the Netherlands. Until these countries do so however, President Bush must transfer American troops and US dollars to Afghanistan.
At the NATO Summit last week, leaders of 26 nations agreed to remove some caveats – national restrictions on how, when and where forces can be used – to further strengthen the effectiveness of the NATO-led forces in the country. They also confirmed that, regardless of the remaining caveats, in an emergency situation every ally will come to the aid of the forces that require assistance. A number of countries also pledged additional assets, including fighters, helicopters, infantry companies, and training teams that will mentor the Afghan National Army.
Afghanistan, an Islamic Republic, has made great strides since 2001 when the Taliban was toppled. In just five years they formed a plan for a democratic government, ratified a constitution, elected a president in a nation-wide election, and had legislative elections last year. However, much needs to be done to protect the country from once again becoming a breeding ground for terrorists. As the country continues to rebuild and recover, it is still struggling against poverty, poor infrastructure; large concentrations of land mines and other lost weapons, as well as a huge illegal poppy cultivation and opium trade. Until long-term stability is established, Afghanistan must move up President Bush’s to do list.