NATO Officials Discuss Afghan Plus-Up, Russian Threats

Nov. 11, 2017 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News
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NATO allies and their partner forces have agreed to increase the size of the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 16,000 troops, said Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general.

Stoltenberg spoke at the end of the NATO defense ministerial in Brussels on Nov. 9.

About 13,000 troops from 39 countries serve in Afghanistan on the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces. In response to the request for more troops from the Resolute Support mission commander, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the United States has already agreed to increase its contribution to the mission. Twenty-seven other nations have also committed to increase troop numbers in the coming months.

Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said he is pleased with the movement.

“We've had the Force Generation Conference, but we also are talking to other nations that are still under consideration of perhaps additional plus-up,” the general said during a roundtable discussion with reporters. “So this is all very encouraging and I would just say that as you look the contributions to the nations to date, we will fulfill Gen. Nicholson's requirement substantially -- in a very satisfactory way in my mind. I'm very encouraged by this.”

The troops will be used for the train, advise and assist mission, including working at officer and noncommissioned officer training academies.

Optempo, Budget

Scaparrotti said he was pleased given the robust operational tempo in the world today. U.S. forces are needed in many areas of the globe, “but it's true for many of the nations here, to include the small ones,” he said.

A second consideration is dealing with budget constraints. The general called it a fact of life for nations. “This is a complex world and there is a lot of demand on the military,” Scaparrotti said. “All of these nations have to make hard choices between Afghanistan, internal responsibilities and other missions that NATO and their nations are executing. So it's just a difficult time today.”

Russia remains a concern for NATO and reporters asked Scaparrotti about the Zapad military exercise in Russia and Belarus and increased Russian activity in the theater.

The general said that overall Russian maritime activity is up. “They are focused on a modernization of their force across all their domains, but the maritime in particular,” he said. “As a result, we have seen increased activity in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Baltic and Black Seas. And we have a responsibility to defend the Euro-Atlantic, so we have responded accordingly.”

Scaparrotti said the Zapad exercise -- which tested Russian command and control capabilities, new equipment and asymmetric capabilities -- followed “basically the outline that we expected and the structure that they have typically done. “It had, both defensive and offensive, both conventional and nuclear aspects to it,” he said. “I don't think there was anything that really surprised me. And no, to our knowledge today, they did not leave anything behind.”

Many in the West believed that at the conclusion of the exercise, the Russian military would leave significant capabilities behind in Belarus.

NATO nations were rightfully concerned about Zapad, Scaparrotti said, but it didn’t “spike” NATO concerns. “We were steady about this, we watched closely what they did, and it informed us on what capabilities we need,” the general said. “I think it reinforced the activities we have taken today, for instance, refined [the NATO command structure], it's that there are capabilities and posture that we need to adjust in order to provide for an effective defense to the Euro-Atlantic. And I think it reinforced what we've been doing and the need for these changes.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)