Gates Arrives in Scotland for Afghan Meetings
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
EDINBURGH, Scotland, Dec. 13, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, arrived here today for meetings with allies working in Regional Command South in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates shakes hands with Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ollie Almond upon Gates' arrival at the Edinburgh International Airport, Scotland, Dec. 13, 2007. The defense secretary is in Scotland to attend an informal meeting with the NATO defense ministry. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Defense and foreign affairs representatives from the eight countries participating in RC South will discuss local and regional issues in Afghanistan, how to better operate together, the need for troops and progress in connecting the Afghan government to its people.
There are 11,000 troops in RC South with its headquarters in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. The region is under British command as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. A U.S. maneuver battalion of 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, is in the region, as well as a U.S. aviation bridging force with 16 helicopters. British Defense Minister Des Browne is hosting the meeting.
The ministers will also discuss a proposal that Gates made during a NATO meeting in Nordvick, Netherlands, in October: a NATO strategic concept paper looking out three to five years in Afghanistan.
“What the secretary proposed was a short, readable document … that explains why we’re (in Afghanistan), what we’re doing, and how we’re going to help the Afghan government meet its goals,” said a senior defense official talking on background.
Representatives of the eight countries in RC South – the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Estonia and Romania – will discuss ways that ISAF should move forward. The paper would serve as a broad roadmap with goals and benchmarks for the goals, the official said. “If we want to get here by year five, where do we need to be at each of these years so that we are able to determine progress?” he said.
This sort of document has not existed before, the official said. There is a NATO operating plan and the Afghan National Defense Strategy, “but we don’t have this connecting tissue,” he said.
The Defense Department has a working draft, but it has not finished the government approval process yet, and will not release the document. “There will be a variety of countries offering drafts, and someone is going to have to pull this together to be endorsed and signed by the heads of government” at the NATO meetings in April, a senior State Department official said, also on background.
The strategic concept paper is designed to do several things. At its basic level, it simply explains the mission. It may serve as a very broad resource-planning tool. The paper also would point out opportunities for countries to specialize in governance, economic of reconstruction aid.
The defense official said the paper might also convince parliaments or assemblies to stay in the Afghan mission. Finally, “maybe just by having this document, it allows other countries that are not participating to say ‘I get it. Here’s how we can help,’” the official said.
Foreign ministry representatives will discuss what they see as absolutely essential. Aid to governance is at the top of the list. The ministers will discuss what governance means and whether NATO can help it to work more effectively.
“We believe the Taliban has a district-by-district strategy, and to compete with them we have to enable national institutions to touch the districts,” the senior State Department official said.
The Afghan Ministry of Education is one example of how the central government can reach the people. Under Taliban rule, only 800,000 boys were in school. Now it’s about 5 million boys and girls – still only 45 percent of the school-age population. Health care is another example. Six years ago, roughly 8 percent of Afghans had health care access; now, 65 percent do. “How do we keep advancing that?” he asked.
The NATO strategy in Afghanistan must move simultaneously on three tracks: security, reconstruction and governance. “You’ve got to have security. You have to separate the enemy from the people so they have some sense that they are not going to be intimidated,” the State Department official said. “You’ve got to connect the people to the government.”
An operation in southern Afghanistan is under way, and officials are searching for generators to get the electrical network up. They are already looking to locate mobile health clinics in the region. They are working with tribal leaders to get progress moving at the local level. The official said the momentum sustains itself.
The State and Defense officials agreed that there are still “registered shortfalls” in Afghanistan for troops. ISAF is three maneuver battalions short, needs more aviation support -- particularly helicopters -- and there are a number of other specialties that have not been filled.
“We’re making progress in Afghanistan, but it’s fragile and it has to be reinforced,” the defense official said.