BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The failure by major donors to follow through on aid pledges to Afghanistan could undermine its efforts to quell an insurgency in the impoverished Muslim state, NATO warned on Thursday.
The alliance is set to takeover military operations from the U.S.-led coalition in the violent south of the country on Monday, thrusting it into what will likely be the toughest combat mission in its history.
A crucial part of NATO’s strategy is to provide protection for development projects aimed at wresting local support away from the Taliban, but the alliance raised concerns that cash pledges to fund those projects were not coming through.
“We are putting a lot of people’s lives on the line,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai of the plan to double troop levels of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force to some 18,000 by the end of the month.
“It makes no sense to invest very heavily in the military resources for peace but not put in the civilian resources to make that peace stable,” he told a news briefing.
Dozens of international donors pledged some $10.5 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction over the next five years at a conference in London in January. But Appathurai said they appeared to be dragging their heals on delivering the cash.
“Disbursement of funds has not been implemented as quickly or as effectively as we hoped,” he said.
Appathurai said NATO was looking to supply Afghanistan’s poorly-resourced national army with weaponry such as small and medium arms, and called on other organisations such as the European Union to do more to help train local police.
PREDICTIONS NOT PERFECT
Alliance ambassadors on Wednesday gave provisional approval for plans to take charge of security in south Afghanistan. The plans must now be approved by the 11 non-NATO members of ISAF.
“We are not expecting any difficulty at all,” said Mark Laity, NATO’s spokesman in Kabul, adding that alliance military authorities were expected on Friday to give final approval to the mission to come into effect on or around July 31.
NATO is taking over security in the south at a time when Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase of violence since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.
Until now, ISAF has operated in the capital, Kabul, and the safer north and west of the country while U.S. troops have borne the brunt of fighting the insurgency in the south and east.
More than 1,700 people have been killed since the start of the year in attacks, mainly in the south, by Taliban guerrillas and U.S.-led coalition operations.
But Laity rejected media comment that NATO had grossly underestimated the extent of the violence in its planning.
“When you meet the reality on the ground you have to adapt. So, were our predictions perfect? No. But were they so far away from what we expected that we had to go back to the drawing board and start again? No.”