NATO Establishing New Afghan Mission, Rapid-reaction Force

NATO member flags outside the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

BRUSSELS — NATO will formally announce on Tuesday the launch of a new advisory mission for Afghanistan and a high-readiness reaction force for eastern Europe, the alliance’s top official said.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance needed to be able to “deal with any challenges from the east and from the south.”

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the need to reassure nervous allies in eastern Europe have energized the 28-member alliance, which critics said had lost its sense of purpose after the end of the Cold War.

“We are developing a spearhead force able to react to any threats within days, (which) should be ready in 2016,” Stoltenberg said. “In the meantime, I expect allies to make available an interim force early next year to provide the capabilities we need.”

Regarding Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said the new mission, named Resolute Support, will commence on Jan. 1, 2015, the day the current NATO combat mission ends.

The alliance-led force in Afghanistan has already shrunk to just 13,300 troops, from a high of nearly 140,000 three years ago, according to the latest statistics.

NATO assumed responsibility for security in the country in August 2003. More than 3,400 NATO troops have died and more than 30,000 have been wounded during the ongoing war with Taliban insurgents.

For the new mission, Washington has already pledged nearly 10,000 troops — mainly trainers and advisers — along with a contingent of anti-terrorism forces. NATO allies and partner nations are expected to contribute about 2,000 more advisers.

Stoltenberg said Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan Cabinet’s chief executive, will attend Tuesday’s meetings.

The two men were making their first visit to NATO since taking office in September. The new administration immediately signed long-delayed security agreements with the United States and NATO designed to enable them to field the follow-on training and advisory mission after Jan. 1.

Afghanistan’s parliament has since ratified both treaties, thus ensuring the legal basis for the new mission.

The presence of Ghani and Abdullah at the NATO meeting “is a strong sign of the strong mutual commitment between NATO and Afghanistan ... in the future,” Stoltenberg said.

In recent weeks, Taliban insurgents have conducted a series of attacks in Kabul and across the country in an apparent effort to undermine the security forces and demonstrate their continuing ability to prosecute the 13-year war.

Taliban leaders have vowed to continue fighting until all foreign troops have left the country.

The Afghan army and police number about 350,000 members, while there are believed to be about 30,000 insurgents.

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