Afghanistan: NATO’s Time Running Out

Holland became the first NATO member to pull out of Afghanistan. How long before the rest follow?

The Netherlands became the first NATO member to quit Afghanistan Sunday, when it withdrew its 1955 troops.

As I note in my New Atlanticist essay, “Afghanistan Clock Ticking,” ISAF will survive the tactical loss, which amounts to a rounding error in the daily muster, but the symbolism is quite another matter.

The United States is already providing the lion’s share to the troops, with its 78430 contingent more than 8 times the contribution of the next leading country, the UK, and more than 17 times that of Germany, the number three supplier.   And the totals are even more skewed when one recognizes that the U.S. has almost as many troops in Afghanistan outside ISAF as in.

But we’ve managed to at least maintain the illusion that this is a NATO fight rather than an American one.   That won’t last much longer.  Canada’s 2700 troops will follow the Dutch example in 2011 and Poland’s 2600 in 2012.


While the commitment of our European Allies gets the most attention, America’s is far from set in stone.   There is, after all, President Obama’s mysterious July 2011 deadline.   What happens on that date?  No one seems to know.   There will be a strategic review this December — by which point very little is likely to have changed — with a decision on where to go from there to follow.

But it’s worth noting that Obama is up for re-election in November 2012 and that polling on the war is down.   According to a Gallup survey released today, 43% of Americans think going to war in Afghanistan — the country which housed the architect of the 9/11 attacks — was a mistake and a whopping 57% disapprove of Obama’s handling of the conflict.   The same number approve of a withdrawal time-table, compared to only 38% supporting staying “until the situation gets better.”    Of the former, two thirds support a timetable for gradual withdrawal, whereas only a third support withdrawing “as soon as possible.”

This war simply isn’t sustainable very much longer.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JKB says:

    Of course this raises the question of why in our economic distress we are spending money on NATO?  Where is the value added?  Making up new missions after your initial one is successfully completed is an old, time-honored bureaucratic trick.  But the new one has proven ineffective.  Since we are busy elsewhere, it is time for Europe to develop the capability to defend itself.  America must come down from its exalted pedestal and mingle with the urbane.
    As for the US withdrawal, that is a bad poll now but I wonder what the polls will say when the Taliban is celebrating their victory on CNN.

  2. Tano says:

    “…come down from its exalted pedestal and mingle with the urbane.”
    What on earth does that mean?

  3. ponce says:

    German and British contributions to Afghanistan are proportionate to their defense spending.
    They can’t give what they don’t have.
    A lesson for the U.S.

  4. Juneau: says:

    Yeah, let’s hope that the british don’t pull out as well.  you know, since Obama has made it clear we don’t have a “special relationship” with the UK any longer, they may give us the forked-finger salute.
    In reality, we don’t need the world to be involved in Afghanistan with us, just a few close friends. Having the blessing of the UN is irrelevant at the end of the day.  The United Nations is like gun control, the only ones who care are the ones who would be following the rules anyway because it’s woven into the fabric of their worldview.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Good Lord Juneau, you really are a complete Imbecile. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.