Michael Evans and Philip Webster are reporting that the meeting of NATO defence ministers is likely to produce exactly nothing in terms of troops being demanded to boost the combat force in Afghanistan.
Nato defence ministers meeting today are not expected to offer any more troops for Afghanistan, despite a plea from military commanders for another 7,500 soldiers, alliance sources said yesterday.What an obdurate fool.
The gloomy prediction on the eve of an informal session of the defence ministers in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, pre-empted appeals yesterday from Gordon Brown and Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, for other Nato countries to share more of the burden in Afghanistan.
Dr Rice, who met the Prime Minister and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said: “I do think the alliance is facing a real test here. Our populations need to understand this is not a peacekeeping mission.”
What is astounding is that Rice actually still speaks as though she possesses influence anywhere in the world.
Germany's offer of 200 more troops is accompanied with a caveat that they not be redeployed to the south.
Here's the reality: 85 percent of Germans are opposed to any redeployment of German troops to southern Afghanistan. If German political leaders made any other offer they would be committing political suicide. It is ludicrous to presume that any one of them would be willing to sacrifice their political fortunes on the altar of the Canadian-contrived Manley Report.
The sense of crisis was made worse by news from Ottawa where the Canadian parliament is split over whether Canada's 2,500 troops in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan should be recalled next year. Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, was reported to be threatening to go to the polls if parliament voted against extending Canada's troop commitment.And the German response to that is: Shall we send bratwurst? The Europeans don't give two shits whether Harper goes to the polls.
Angela Merkel is facing an election in Germany next year and a full 85 percent of Germans are flatly against the redeployment of German troops to the south of Afghanistan. Any move on her part, or that of her defence minister, to redefine the German contribution would result in her being labelled "pro-war" amongst German voters. That would find her out of a job by next year and she knows it.
>"Merkel is very afraid of a rerun of the 2002 election," said Jan Techau, Europe director at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. In 2002, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, a Social Democrat, was reelected after mounting an antiwar and anti-US campaign as Washington prepared to invade Iraq.Scared indeed. And then there is the fact that most Germans view the US Bush administration as a danger to the world. When Rice and Gates come rolling in demanding more German boots on the ground, a shift into the free-fire zone and a guarantee of combat casualties, the resistance only stiffens.
"Merkel is scared that that kind of campaign could be pulled off again," Techau said. "This is why the Christian Democrats do not want to hand the Social Democrats the peace issue. As each party tries to prove which is the most pacifist, foreign policy is becoming paralyzed," he added.
Rice, Gates, Harper, Mackay and various others making demands on other countries aren't factoring in the political reality that the war in Afghanistan, an open-ended US manufactured fiasco with no strategic goal, is not being swallowed easily by most populations contributing forces to NATO. Political leaders defy the general feeling of their voters at their own peril - hardly something an ambitious politician is likely to do.
There is another poll starting to emerge. Britain and Canada provide troops to Afghanistan from a completely volunteer armed forces. When the British deploy 16 Air Assault Brigade to Afghanistan in April, the two parachute battalions which form the bulk of that brigade will be understrength by about 100 men each. It is being made up by pulling about 60 troops from 4 Para battalion - a part of the Territorial Army - part-time reservists.
In short, the British are now having difficulty recruiting and retaining troops for the regular army after years of corrosive deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Canada has been employing army reservists (militia) from the beginning of its Afghanistan expedition to fill out the ranks of regular force battalions. What Canadians generally don't see is that, despite an intense recruiting effort, those regular force battalions are no better manned now than they were three years ago. In fact some are worse off. There are major support units which, on returning to Canada from an Afghanistan rotation, simply disintegrated as the bulk of members opted to be released from the Canadian Forces.
Today's meeting in Lithuania will result in Rice and Gates uttering more demands. The reality neither of them seem to want to face is that when they issue such demands, the universal response is a desire to do the opposite.