NATO is not only planning to boost its forces in the East: The alliance wants to focus on counterterrorism and immigration on its southern flank. Bernd Riegert reports from the NATO summit in Warsaw.
After two days of round-table discussions and many bilateral meetings, among them with the American and Turkish presidents, Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed satisfied: “I believe that this is an important NATO summit because many concrete decisions have been made.” Indeed, the leaders gave their blessings to a series of decisions that had been in preparation in NATO for months. There were no real surprises in Warsaw.
Most definite was the announcement about the mission in Afghanistan. NATO aid in training and building the Afghan army will be extended at least until the end of 2017 because of the “precarious” security situation in Afghanistan.
The original plans to withdraw alliance troops have been scrapped – now none will be. About 13,000 soldiers of the NATO mission “Resolute Support” remain in Afghanistan, while another 3,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan outside the NATO mission.
Originally, US President Barack Obama wanted to end this longest of all American wars by the end of his term in January 2017. Fifteen years ago, US troops invaded Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to smash the Taliban regime and the al Qaeda terrorists it harbored.
Merkel: Migration from Afghanistan shows the problem
The radical Islamist Taliban still exists, but now they should be part of the solution, according to NATO. “We have made it clear to everyone that in parallel with the political process, dialogue with the Taliban is necessary to advance a political solution,” Merkel said at the end of the summit.
Merkel also said it was important that the Afghan government take action against corruption and create better living conditions: “We have seen from the many migrants who left Afghanistan last year that the situation here is not satisfactory.”
NATO will also continue to ensure funding for Afghan soldiers and police – by 2020, that will cost $4.5 billion (4 billion euros) per year.
The acting Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, took part in the summit in Poland along with President Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah told DW that he welcomed the extension of the NATO mission and is grateful to the alliance.
“The threat of terrorism in our region is growing,” Abdullah said. “The security situation is not as it should be.” Unlike a few years ago, he said, the Afghan forces are now capable of taking responsibility and would need further support.
When asked how long NATO would have to remain in Afghanistan, Abdullah declined to offer an estimate.
NATO lends a helping AWACS
After the threat posed by Russia in the east topped NATO’s agenda on Friday, it was the south’s turn on Saturday. The military alliance is dealing with the war in Syria, the conflict in Iraq, the uncertain situation in Libya and increasing migration from Africa.
The alliance does not want to use military force. But it does want to support the European Union’s “Sophia” naval mission off the Libyan coast, which is supposed to allow human traffickers’ boats to be better tracked. NATO diplomats say a formal request from the EU has not yet been lodged.
NATO will also make its AWACS surveillance planes available to the international coalition fighting the terrorist organization “Islamic State.” The AWACS aircraft, for which the German army provides around one-third of the crews, are expected to fly over NATO member Turkey and use their radars to peer into Syria and Iraq to gain an overview of the situation there.
Merkel also called on her NATO colleagues to become more engaged in Africa. The Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram is active around Lake Chad. While NATO is mainly in Mali, most refugees now come from Niger.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that in future, the alliance will also train security forces directly in Iraq to take action against terrorists. Until now, Iraqis have been trained only outside the country.
The possible withdrawal of Britain from the European Union was apparently not a big issue at the NATO partners’ talks. British Prime Minister David Cameron said Brexit would not affect the UK’s relations to the alliance. “Britain is not going to be playing a lesser role in the world,” he said. “We are not turning our back on NATO.” Obama called on Britain and the EU to negotiate the exit so that “no damage” arises on either side.
Lithuania is satisfied, Russia is taught a lesson
For the Polish hosts, NATO’s decision to increase its military presence in the Baltic states and Poland by 4,000 troops was the most important. It was meant to send a signal to Russia that NATO would respond to any Russian attack on a member country, no matter how small. The eastern NATO countries feel threatened by Russian military actions against Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius told DW he was satisfied with what had been achieved in Warsaw. Of course, the 1,000 extra troops in the country would not be sufficient to halt a Russian advance, Linkevicius said, but their presence is “a signal.”
Stoltenberg said no one can predict how the relationship with Russia will develop following the decisions made in Warsaw. But NATO had a duty to prepare for all eventualities. His conclusion was that the alliance would remain united.
On Wednesday the Russian ambassador will be informed about the outcome of the summit at the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels. NATO hopes this will lead to further dialogue. The effects will be seen at next year’s NATO meeting in Brussels.