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NATO Tries to Tame Afghan Anger

Prepared by: Esther Pan
Updated June 1, 2006

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Kabul recovers from a spate of rioting and looting after a May 29 accident in which a U.S. military vehicle crashed into Kabul traffic, killing several civilians (CS Monitor). The violence comes as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force in Afghanistan prepares to take over security operations in the country's volatile south from U.S. troops, who are drawing down. Lt. Gen. David Barno, former commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan and now director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, tells CFR.org's Esther Pan he is confident NATO forces will be ready to handle the mission. "I am 100 percent certain that the U.S. will not do the handoff to the NATO forces unless they are fully capable of taking on the same area with the same mission capabilities," he says.

But Amin Tarzi of Radio Free Europe says many of the countries participating in the southern expansion—Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia, which is not even a member of NATO—do not have clear mandates or missions for their presence in the south. Many experts fear casualties to these troops will cause the political will in their home countries to wilt and lead to their withdrawal; some say the Taliban has increased their attacks on the NATO presence in the south in part to force this result (RFE/RL). CFR fellow William Nash, who commanded a NATO mission in Bosnia, tells CFR.org the Pentagon has the "arrogant attitude" that U.S. forces are more effective than NATO troops, and warns that unless the Defense Department commits political will and resources to the success of the NATO southern expansion, the mission will fail. "The United States seems to be taking a we/they mentality with NATO," he says. "But NATO's us. There seems to be some propensity to abrogate responsibility, as opposed to finding a new way to be more efficient."

Nearly five years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, the security situation in Afghanistan remains tense and fragile. Afghans are angry that some $12 billion in foreign aid received by the state since 2001 has not provided jobs, improved security, or raised the standard of living; 53 percent of Afghans still live on less than one dollar per day. Afghans are also suffering a wave of violence that left 250 people dead in the week before the riots (CSMonitor). Many Afghans blame corrupt government officials and policemen in league with criminals for the growing violence. The endemic corruption also exacerbates the effect of increasing attacks from a resurgent Taliban using Pakistan as a base to stage deadly cross-border suicide missions. In a CFR Special Report, Barnett Rubin says the Pakistan-based Taliban insurgency is becoming more lethal and effective.

An ongoing U.S. campaign of air strikes against militants in the south has killed dozens of Afghan civilians, further angering the population. More than fifty alleged Taliban members were killed in a May 29 air strike on Helmand province (al-Jazeera), and some 372 people, including civilians, have been killed in violence since May 17. Many Afghans seem fed up with the presence of foreign troops in their country. Other analysts say, however, that the riots did not reflect anti-American or anti-foreigner sentiment as much as the organization of criminal gangs and anti-government forces, which used the crash as an excuse to commit crimes and spread disorder (RFE/RL).

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