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60 years on, NATO in crisis over Afghan war
Wed Apr 1, 2009 9:45am EDT
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By David Brunnstrom
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The NATO alliance, born from the ashes of World War Two, meets for a 60th anniversary summit on Friday to seek ways to avoid humbling in a far-off war in Afghanistan it never imagined having to fight.
The meeting in the Rhineland border cities of Strasbourg and Kehl -- venues straddling the frontier of foes-turned-allies France and Germany -- will be packed full of symbolism aimed at celebrating an alliance created to defend Europe's borders.
NATO will also welcome France's return to full NATO participation after a Franco-U.S. schism dating to the days of Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, and an improved transatlantic mood brought by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The 26-nation body will usher in two new Eastern European members, Albania and Croatia, evidence of how it prevailed in the Cold War, and look to build ties with post-Soviet Russia.
But the celebrations cannot mask NATO's doubts about how to pursue its long war on Islamist militancy in Afghanistan, and fears over extremism in nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan.
"Afghanistan is a huge problem and the key issue for NATO," said Karl-Heinz Kamp, of the NATO Defense College in Rome. "I am not sure every ally has fully understood this."
Insurgent violence in Afghanistan has spiraled more than seven years after the U.S.-led intervention, despite a NATO-led force of over 60,000 from 42 nations and thousands more mounting counter-terrorism operations under U.S. leadership.
An international conference in The Hague this week stressed global determination not to lose Afghanistan and nations rallied round Obama's plans to step up the war on militants and boost Afghanistan's own security forces.
But analysts warn against false optimism on the Obama plan, predicting a planned U.S. troop surge will be insufficient, and that its allies in NATO remain reluctant to contribute the troops, equipment, money and coordination needed to prevail.
"We don't have a blueprint ... We don't know how to do it and we have no proper assessment of the situation," said Kamp. "If you don't know where you are, how will you know where to go?"
Tarak Barkawi, of Cambridge University's Center of International Studies, called NATO's Afghan mission "a mess."
"Things don't portend well for the future at all. People are under the illusion that somehow Afghanistan is a less difficult country to fight in than Iraq and that's simply not the case."
"And in Pakistan, you are looking at a failed state with nuclear weapons and all the other military hardware. It's something no one quite wants to contemplate. It's a cauldron."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says now is the time for allies to deliver. But NATO is keeping the focus on what can be realistically expected. Continued...
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