European military forces have been sidelined by the US surge, and EU police training condemned for its weakness while the Afghan insurgency spreads.
Afghanistan represents Europe’s biggest commitment to crisis management. European troops account for over 30,000 of the 130,000 NATO troops now deployed, while an EU mission (EUPOL Afghanistan, which has a €54.6 million budget) has been involved in police training since 2007. The EU is also a major donor of aid. EU governments and the US are committed to the “Afghanization” of governance and security, a goal confirmed at the January 2010 London Conference (see also component 36).
However, although they claim unity, European governments lack a common strategy. The Netherlands implemented a prior commitment to withdraw combat troops in the autumn, while other major NATO contributors, including France, Italy, Poland and the UK, set separate goals for withdrawing their forces in the years ahead. Meanwhile, EUPOL Afghanistan received severe criticism for its lack of results throughout 2010: reports in the second quarter of 2010 suggested that only 12 percent of Afghan National Police Units were capable of operating autonomously, and even EU officials admit that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is now taking on a greater role in police training to substitute for EUPOL’s weaknesses. EUPOL-ISAF contacts also remain poor.
More broadly, US and European aid to the Afghan government has not resulted in a stable political relationship with President Hamid Karzai. Over the course of the last year, Karzai has frequently attacked NATO’s strategy and even indicated his willingness to work with the Taliban. Most European policymakers believe that Karzai’s administration is irretrievably corrupt, but there was little significant progress in 2010 in efforts to initiate talks with elements of the Taliban. By the end of the year, US commanders were cautiously optimistic that they were making headway against the Taliban, but European forces played only a limited role. Evidence that the insurgency is expanding into northern Afghanistan – a region primarily patrolled by European NATO forces – is a new source for serious concern.