As NATO continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan, questions continue to arise about the future global role of the Alliance. Until the end of this year NATO will have to remove all the troops from Afghanistan. The question is: What will be the role of the NATO after December 31, 2014? On that day NATO’s long and challenging International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan will come to an end and the security of Afghanistan will be in the hands of the Afghans themselves. This does not however mean that NATO’s engagement with Afghanistan will be over, but merely the end of combat and that NATO from then on will be focusing on training, advising and assisting the Afghan government in its journey through the forthcoming ‘Transformation Decade.’

Since 2003, NATO’s primary objective in Afghanistan was to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists. NATO’s continued commitment to Afghanistan after 2014 is unquestionable and few can doubt the effort that is currently being undertaken to make Afghanistan as ready as possible for taking over full control of its own security by the end of 2014. Moreover, NATO’s future commitment to Afghanistan seems likely to be limited to assisting, advising and training in what can only be assumed will be a small-scale training mission.

NATO’s task in Afghanistan was focused on facilitation of the transformation of the Afghan armed forces through specific forms of change. In this role the Alliance, through the NTM-A, has two simultaneous roles: first as a socializer, a role in which NATO works towards the transfer of norms and practices that are regarded as essential for efficient and accountable armed forces and law enforcement forces. Second, in order to maximize the chances for achieving sustainable change of norms and practices, the Alliance must also work towards ensuring a sufficient level of ontological security among the key change agents.

A newly signed strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the United States stipulates that NATO troops will largely withdraw by the end of 2014 with Afghan security forces taking the lead in securing the nation. The US will provide limited training and counter terrorism support for the next decade, but will be leaving a to-do list for major powers in the region, especially for the rivals India and Pakistan.

On a positive side, the situation in Afghanistan has seen significant weakening of the Afghan Taliban military force, following the implementation of the “surge” strategy by ISAF and the ANSF in 2009–2011. It is illustrated by a decline in enemy-initiated attacks and growing capabilities to detect IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Another positive indicator of a consolidation of the Afghan administration is seen in the process of re-integration of low-ranking members of the Taliban, among whom almost 5,600 were disarmed then employed in their local communities.

NATO has already begun discussions about the size and form of its engagement in Afghanistan after 2014. The Alliance will probably focus on training and equipping ANSF, while the U.S. will take the lead in anti-terror operation outside NATO, with the latter mission directed against the remnants of Al Qaeda leadership.

The new missions in Afghanistan will probably operate in an environment of permanent internal political instability andrisk of violence. The strengthening of the ISAF mission in recent years and expansion of ANSF contributed to a reversal in negative trends in Afghan security and helped restrain a counteroffensive by the Taliban. Nevertheless, the resumption of the insurgency and various forms of terrorist attacks cannot be excluded. The attainment of Afghan forces at the current level until at least 2018 would be a strong symbol of a long-term partnership between the West and Afghanistan. The new mission would also be indispensable for ANSF to retain control of security of the country. For this, however, it should not be limited to training but also include intelligence, logistic and equipment support for ANSF.

According to some observers,for the first time since the end of the Cold War, after December 2014, NATO will not have a well-defined military mission. This raises an important debate regarding the future of NATO and its mission as a provider of the global peace and security. Others think that for NATO to exist, as a defence alliance, it does not always have to be active with troops on the ground fighting a conflict in a far-off places. According to the last, it is time for NATO to take a break from an active engagement in foreign conflicts and should return on the its core mission, the so-called Article V task of the direct defense of NATO territory.

Many are asking what will happen in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of the NATO troops at the end of 2014? In my opinion, Afghanistan will still remain an insecure place regarding the fact that poverty rate still is on a high level in the country and the concept of “liberal nation state” proves to be difficult to implement.

In order to ensure the stability in the country, there are several approaches that if implemented may give some positive results: First, introduction of federal system of power that will allocate significant power to the regional players regarding the fact that the central authority has no strong authority at all. The second approach is to include Taliban in the Afghan Government. However, this also has its own challenges having in mind that the attempt to broker a deal with the Taliban failed recently after the U.S troops went on a killing rampage on civilians.

NATO’s exit strategy and the future fate Afghanistan becomes a major global agenda. The answer to the question why NATO will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan can be attributed to the limits of the Western military powers. The U.S and its allies are now forced to reconsider their overall strategy on the so-called war on terror.

The Afghanistan they are leaving behind may be much more a security threat than before the invasion. Today AL Qaeda is proliferated in many parts of the world. In addition, the problem in Afghanistan is already spilling over to neighboring states like Pakistan. However, the overall impact of the NATO involvement in Afghanistan is yet to be seen in the years to come.

Image source: ISAF Mission