Tony Blair's decision to draw down British forces in Basra after handing security responsibility to Iraq gave critics of the war in Iraq some dubious ammunition with which to attack it and the Bush administrations new surge strategy. However, the British troops won't be cooling their heels in London or anywhere else in the UK. Blair has to send the same number of troops he's drawing out of Basra into Afghanistan, thanks to a failure of our NATO allies to reinforce the effort to defeat the Taliban:
An extra battle group of up to 1,500 British troops is to be sent to Afghanistan to take on the Taleban over the next few months, the Government will announce on Monday. The extensive reinforcement, bringing the number of British troops in Afghanistan to about 7,000, has been agreed with Nato after alliance partners failed to offer more infantry units to fight in the south.
General Bantz Craddock, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Saceur), had appealed to all Nato members to come up with additional troops during a defence ministers’ meeting in Seville this month.
Whitehall sources said that, apart from “a few bits and pieces”, no one had offered fighting troops. “We felt we couldn’t wait any longer because it would risk unravelling all the achievements we have been making in the south, so we have offered another battle group,” one said.
The deployment of up to 1,500 more troops, with armoured vehicles and extra helicopters, will be timed for when a British general takes command of the southern region in May. Major-General Jacko Page, whose 6th Division headquarters will be in Kandahar, had specifically asked for more.The new battle group will be formed into a reserve force that can be sent to any part of southern Afghanistan, not just Helmand, where 5,000 British troops are based. A further 500 are in Kabul, the capital.
Britain and the US have received years of criticism for the foray into Iraq to resolve the 12-year standoff there rather than commit more troops to fight the terrorists of the Taliban. However, when the subject of that fight comes up, the defense ministers of the NATO alliance suddenly find a lot of excuses as to why they cannot contribute troops for the mission. Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, puts it rather bluntly: “Too many of our European partners are now pocketing the Nato security guarantee but leaving UK taxpayers and the UK military to carry the cost."
NATO currently has 35,000 troops in Afghanistan. The US provides 27,000 of them, followed by the existing British contingent of 5,500. That leaves around 2,500 troops contributed by the rest of our partners in the war on terror, many of which have placed restrictions on their deployment in combat areas. That's less participation than we had during the invasion of Iraq.
Perhaps we should end our NATO alliance and look for more suitable partners for security. The Eastern European nations appear more rational about the threat to freedom coming from Southwest Asia these days. The traditional NATO nations, save the UK, appear to have decided that the doctrine of unity among members has little to do with them. The US should pull itself out of Western Europe altogether and let them provide for their own security, paying their own bills and organizing their own policies rather than continue subsidizing ennui.
UPDATE: Some commenters point out Canada's contribution and dispute the numbers. The confusion comes from the fact that there are two separate operations in Afghanistan, ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom. Here's a map of the deployments:
Bear in mind that almost all of the combat occurs in RC(S) and RC(E). Which flags do we see? American, British, American, Canadian, American, Australian, the Dutch, and ... uh ... American. Most of the nations in the north have restrictions on the use of their troops for combat missions, leaving the Anglosphere with almost all of the front-line duty.