About the Author: Ivo Daalder serves as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
The U.S. Mission to NATO may sit in a commune of Brussels, but we spend much of our time focused on Afghanistan -- NATO's largest operation ever and a top U.S. priority. Our job is to engage Allies in a broad effort to strengthen the 44-nation stabilization force in Afghanistan. My interagency Afghanistan Team will be busily writing policy and operational documents at NATO Headquarters and preparing U.S. official statements for the NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Istanbul (February 4-5). To gather ideas, we, along with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon, recently visited Afghanistan to talk to civilian and military leaders in Kabul, as well as their representatives in the provinces, about how NATO can best support their work on the ground.
My team came away with a long "to do" list, but also a sense of cautious optimism. We saw first-hand how the President's decision to send more troops has inspired confidence and generated new momentum. We now have more U.S. and NATO troops and civilians deploying to help. The significant USG civilian increase -- a tripling of civilian technical experts on the ground in the past year deploying both to Kabul and the field -- is an interagency effort spearheaded by the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). From the headquarters to the field, our colleagues know what needs to be done, and they are also keenly aware of the challenges. But while we all agree that training the Afghan security forces is the critical element in transitioning responsibility of security operations to the Afghans themselves, we have yet to put forward all the resources needed to meet our goals, particularly the number of experienced instructors and mentors to help the Afghan police and army grow and become more professional. We left Afghanistan with the impression that one of NATO's most urgent tasks must be to address that gap.
Partnership is not a buzzword when it comes to Afghanistan. As we saw on the ground, it is a fundamental part of every military and civilian strategy. Afghan troops now take part in nearly all International Security Assistance Force operations. As NATO trains Afghans to be soldiers and police, we are training their commanders to run their academies, develop their national defense strategies, and plan joint operations. At the Provincial Reconstruction Team level, Afghan governors, security commanders, and tribal leaders are deciding how development funds are spent, helping identify how to reintegrate insurgents peacefully back into the community, and working to improve the retention of locally recruited police. It will take time and effort for the Afghans to build governing capacity, but each one of these efforts builds a little more expertise. And, as we so clearly felt, a little more optimism.
Civilian-military integration -- an old concept but a new practice for both the Department of State and Defense -- is really taking place. Every single military leader we spoke to emphasized that security alone won't accomplish our goals. In Regional Command East and Regional Command South, at Task Force Mountain Warrior, at the PRT in Uruzgan, State Department, USAID, and USDA experts sit alongside their uniformed counterparts and are clearly shaping what is truly an integrated approach.
And finally, a word about our personnel in the field. Every woman and man we met, junior and senior, civilian and military alike, represents the best of our American sense of commitment, dedication, energy, and can-do spirit. They are inspired and they are inspiring. Getting the strategy right is important, but having the right people to implement it is what will turn the tide. In this respect, we are giving 100 percent.