NATO leaders are expected on Tuesday to determine 2016 troop levels for Afghanistan and to forge a new strategy for countering unconventional threats on several fronts, NATO’s top official said.
“The security environment in which we meet today is dark,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the start of a two-day foreign ministers’ meeting. “Terrorist attacks, violent instability, the breach of international rules.”
At NATO headquarters, allies will put together a plan for continuing their training and advisory mission in Afghanistan, seeking to shore up commitments as new threats pull the alliance in other directions. These challenges include the Islamic State militant group on NATO’s southern flank and Russia’s muscular posture on the alliance’s eastern border.
Allies will step up plans for dealing with the southern threat, where in recent days Germany and the United Kingdom have announced plans to increase the presence of air and sea power, Stoltenberg said.
NATO will consider ways to bolster contributions to the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Afghanistan as well as more measures for reassuring the security concerns of Turkey, which downed a Russian warplane last week that had allegedly violated its airspace.
“We will discuss how we can continue to support Turkey and provide different kinds of assurance measures,” Stoltenberg said.
Already, Spain has a Patriot missile battery in Turkey on an air-defense mission, and the U.S. Air Force recently deployed a group of F-15s to patrol Turkey’s border with Syria. More measures are being discussed, Stoltenberg said.
In the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula last year — a stealth operation that involved troops without Russian military uniforms and other unconventional techniques — NATO has focused more attention on developing a strategy for dealing with so-called hybrid threats. Stoltenberg said NATO will adopt a new hybrid warfare strategy, “which applies in all directions.”
At the same time, allies will examine ways to improve communication with Moscow, to “restore predictability” and avoid future confrontations during operations in Syria, he said.
On Afghanistan, the U.S.-led NATO alliance is expected to approve a presence that parallels a new American plan to keep a larger-than-expected force in the country amid concerns about a resurgent Taliban. The new U.S. plan, announced by the Obama administration in October, calls for a force of 9,800 troops to remain in Afghanistan through most of next year to continue its mission to advise and assist. The U.S. troops will operate from several U.S. bases, including those in Bagram, north of the capital of Kabul; Kandahar, in the country’s south; and Jalalabad, in the country’s east.
Obama’s original plan would have pulled out all but a small embassy-based contingent of troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, a move that would have likely spelled the end to NATO’s Resolute Support mission. However, concerns about recent gains by the Taliban prompted a policy shift.
Under the new plan, at least 5,500 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017, leaving future drawdown decisions to the next American president.
The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, told reporters Monday that it is expected that the alliance will “parallel the U.S. decision to sustain its current mission and its current force posture through 2016.”
“The bottom line I think is that for NATO, Afghanistan remains unfinished business. And despite these competing challenges closer to home, we have to follow through on those commitments,” he said.
Meanwhile, near the conclusion of NATO’s meeting on Wednesday, allies will vote on whether to extend NATO membership to Montenegro, a small county that for years has sought to become the alliance’s 29th member.