Istanbul, 29 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's announcement yesterday of increased support for Afghanistan is at this stage more a statement of intent than an immediate contribution to Afghanistan's security.
It has two parts. First, NATO leaders agreed to boost the number of the predominantly civilian Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) by four. This falls short of the initial target of five.
Second, NATO also made a decision in principle to expand its ISAF mission to provide increased security for the presidential elections scheduled for September.
This morning, at a joint news conference with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer explained the decision.
"The number of PRTs in the north will increase so that stability and security can be spread over a larger part of the country," de Hoop Scheffer said. "NATO is also preparing to even set up more PRTs in the more western part of the country. And last but not least, NATO is going to provide electoral support. NATO will assist the Afghan national army, the Afghan police, in the period of the elections that are going to be held."
Karzai, standing beside de Hoop Scheffer, said he welcomes the decision and acknowledged the NATO chief's personal efforts behind it.
A little later, speaking to leaders of the 26 NATO countries and the alliance's partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Karzai indicated he is aware of the complex way NATO works. Decisions, once made, often need further political clarification. Once the details of the allies' intent become fully explicit, the necessary forces and logistical support must be found. This can be a tortuously slow business, as recent months in Afghanistan have shown.
"You can rest assured that we have the extra troops." -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Karzai made a direct appeal to NATO leaders to speed up this process: "I welcome very much your decision yesterday to send us security forces to help us with the elections. But elections are coming in September, and we need security forces today in Afghanistan to provide a secure environment for elections for the Afghan people, and beyond. Our request to you is to please fulfill the commitment that you have made yesterday for Afghanistan before elections, so that we in Afghanistan can provide an environment in which our people can go and vote freely and fairly."
Karzai said the Afghan people "need that security today, not tomorrow." He recounted increasing attacks on registered voters and registration personnel, although he said the attacks have not yet begun to sap people's enthusiasm for the elections.
De Hoop Scheffer this morning appeared to reject some of what NATO officials had been saying privately yesterday -- specifically, the contention that 3,500 soldiers have already been found to supplement the current 6,500 ISAF troops.
In effect, de Hoop Scheffer said yesterday's decision was an affirmation of the will to help, but that the details still need to be worked out.
"The extra troops will come, the details of which have to be worked out. But you can rest assured that we have the extra troops. I am not yet going to name countries and details, but the forces which we have committed yesterday will be there, in theater, and over the horizon, which means that we have forces in theater to assist the Afghan National Army in the period of the elections," de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO officials say a final political decision on boosting ISAF for an estimated six- to eight-week period around the elections still has not been made. This decision relates to what forces will be deployed, under what aegis and from which contributing countries.
Yesterday, French President Jacques Chirac ruled out Afghanistan's elections as a first mission for the NATO Response Force (NRF). Officials say part of the debate is about whether the NRF can undertake missions other than crisis management -- its original purpose.
NATO sources told RFE/RL that any new alliance troops in Afghanistan are unlikely to be involved in securing individual polling stations. Rather, the battalions will be deployed to provide "forward security" as and when needed.
Also, NATO is said to be keen not to antagonize regional leaders in Afghanistan and is content to leave most of the election security in local hands.
There is also a growing feeling within NATO that the U.S.-led coalition is unwilling to antagonize regional warlords, since it needs their cooperation in counterterrorist operations.
NATO officials say local warlords themselves appear to be positioning themselves to enter Afghan politics.
Karzai today indicated Afghanistan does not yet have the institutions to cope with the situation. He said the national army has around 10,000 men, complemented by about 20,000 police. That, he said, is "not enough."
NATO sources confirm, meanwhile, that the process of demilitarizing Afghanistan's 100,000 or more private militiamen has all but run aground.