Daniel Korski

ISAF = I Saw Americans Fight?

ISAF = I Saw Americans Fight?
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The imminent Dutch withdrawal from NATO’s Afghan mission will ignite the question of allied troop contributions. But what are the real numbers and how do they compare to past missions? In a new article for the Spanish think tank FRIDE, I have done the sums, as part of a broader analysis of transatlantic “AfPak” policy since President Obama came to power.

The contribution of EU member states to NATO’s ISAF has grown from 16,900 soldiers in 2007 to 22,774 in 2008, 25,572 in 2009 and 32,337 in 2010. Soldiers from EU countries have until this year made up 45–53 per cent of the total force and for three consecutive years.

In 2010, following a US surge, the percentage has slipped down to 38 per cent, while the US has maintained substantial troop numbers outside of ISAF. But the ISAF figures are not far from the European contribution to past NATO missions. in 1995, European troops made up some 59 percent of NATO’s IFOR mission in Bosnia.

Of course, measuring Europe’s commitment by how many troops it deploys gives only a partial perspective. Military utility depends on where new troops can be deployed and whether deployment is restricted, for example if troops have to remain in one place or will not leave their base at night. Similarly, ISAF commanders require a particular type of soldier that EU member nations do not volunteer; the lack of trainers or drill sergeants has been particularly problematic.

Yet there is no denying the three-year long European surge and the exponential increase in troop deployments after Barack Obama entered the White House in early January 2009. How long this will last is another question.