Unnoticed by many, the last few years have seen something of a European military surge in Afghanistan. Since late 2006, 18 of the 25 EU countries participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO’s Afghan mission, have increased their troop contributions, and as a result EU member states now account for 43% of ISAF’s total deployment. This military surge has been accompanied by a steady growth in European efforts to contribute to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, from development aid to police training – although not every EU member state is pulling its weight.
These measures have made the EU a major stakeholder in Afghanistan. Yet the EU’s real impact on the country has been limited. In the face of a likely request from the Obama administration to do more, European governments should now formulate a hard-headed political strategy as a complement to the coming US military surge.
The overall aim of this strategy should be to begin systematic outreach to Afghanistan’s insurgency groups. To prepare the ground, the 2009 presidential elections will have to be safeguarded from insurgent attack and fraud. After the election, EU governments should push for the twin processes of reconciliation and constitutional change. But European governments cannot revert to a purely civilian role. They should continue improving their training of the Afghan army and police, and assist US and local forces in emphasising “human security” in military operations. This should be backed up by well-funded and long-term aid commitments, the launch of a European provincial reconstruction team in Kabul, a developmentbased approach to counter-narcotics, and a revived Pakistan strategy.