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NATO

Afghanistan at a crossroads

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
While a poll in Afghanistan showed that the mood of the country is steadily deteriorating, US President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of 17,000 more troops. Germany also plans to increase its contingent.

The security situation is not the only thing getting worse in Afghanistan; the mood of the country is also darkening. According to a representative poll conducted for ARD, ABC and BBC by the Afghan Institute for Social and Public Opinion Research, only a minority (40%) of Afghans believe the country is moving in the right direction. Of those polled, 38% think it is going in the wrong direction – a pessimistic view that was shared by only six per cent of the Afghans polled in October 2005. In the war-torn provinces of the Southwest, the situation is even worse. There, only 20 % of respondents welcome the presence of US and NATO troops, and 47 % blame the United States, NATO and ISAF for the conflict.

The Taliban are considered the greatest threat to the country by 68 % of Afghans. According to the study, the reasons for the change of mood differ from region to region: in the relatively quiet North, economic woes are a major factor in the erosion of optimism; in the embattled South, that is also true of ubiquitous violence.

In the coming months, even more foreign troops will be sent to Afghanistan to stem the violence. US President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of an additional 17,000 soldiers and Germany also plans to increase its contingent by 600 troops in the summer, including 200 solely to serve as a security force during elections. The presidential election is planned for the end of August, although an exact date has yet to be fixed. At present, the NATO-led ISAF has a total of more than 55,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, just under 3,500 of them Germans and 24,900 Americans. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Mohammed Eshak of the Afghan foreign ministry welcomed these pledges: “With fewer international troops on the ground, the Afghan army is inevitably tied up in the fight against terrorism and other missions and will not make progress on training, which is where the focus is needed.”

The new US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke is about to discover how difficult it will be to turn the mood of the country around. However, in response to a specific American request, he will be helped by a new special envoy from Germany. Bernd Mützelburg, a 65 year old diplomat who previously served as Germany’s ambassador to India, was appointed to the post in February by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. (cir)