ISAF nations follow US lead, announce early troop drawdowns
On June 23, President Barack Obama announced the US plan for an early drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, to begin later this year. In the brief time that has elapsed since that announcement, the majority of the nations that comprise the International Assistance Force Coalition in Afghanistan have followed the US lead in announcing similar early drawdowns of their own.
In November 2010, NATO held a summit conference in Lisbon. One of the topics for discussion was the future plan for Afghanistan. The summit produced a target date for the handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces and the completion of a substantial withdrawal of foreign forces: December 2014. But the specific plan to get from the current state to the desired end state in December 2014 was not determined at that time.
Fast-forward to June 23, 2011, when President Obama announced the plan for the US, which would involve an early drawdown, with substantial force reductions in 2011 and 2012. The decision amounted to a rejection of the US military's preferred option of maintaining current troop levels for the short term and starting the drawdown later, in 2013-2014.
ISAF takes cue from US plan
In the past two weeks following President Obama's speech, many other ISAF Coalition nations have announced their own plans. It is now clear that a large majority are planning to start their drawdowns early also, in 2011 and 2012, in line with the US plan. Of the 17 nations that each contribute more than 500 troops to ISAF:
- Twelve nations intend to reduce troops starting in 2011 or 2012; significantly, these 12 countries command more than 85% of the troops in question.
- Three nations intend to maintain current troop levels for the time being; they command 10% of the troops.
- Two nations intend to increase current troop levels; they command less than 5% of the troops.
Moreover, a number of these countries specifically cite the new US plan as the justification for their own early drawdowns, for example:
France: French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in late June that hundreds of his country's troops, out of a 4000-member contingent, will be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of 2011, "in a proportional manner and in a timeframe similar to the pullback of the American reinforcements".
Poland: The head of Poland's National Security Bureau, General Stanislaw Koziej, told TVN24 television that Warsaw's strategy "is similar to Obama's as we will begin reducing our presence this year and by 2014 withdraw entirely."
Belgium: [Didier] Deweerdt [a spokesman for Defence Minister Pieter De Crem] said the proposal, which he stressed has still to go before the caretaker Belgian government, was "in line with the policy of troop reductions announced by the United States and France" since last week.
Czech Republic: [Defense Minister Alexandr] Vondra made the announcement in reaction to criticism by deputy leader of the opposition Social Democrats (?SSD), Lubomír Zaorálek that the Czech government had not responded to the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan as recently announced by the US President Barak Obama. Czech Prime Minister Petr Ne?as (ODS) last week reacted to Obama's announcement by saying the Czech Republic would remain a reliable NATO ally and would not take any unilateral decisions on tactics and policy in Afghanistan.
Denmark: Denmark says it will start gradually withdrawing its 750-man force from Helmand province this year, in line with other NATO countries reducing their role in Afghanistan.
Romania: The Council's decision comes after the US, France and Italy announced last week they would start pulling out of Afghanistan.
It is clear that ISAF Coalition nations are following the US lead for an early drawdown from Afghanistan. See below for a country-by-country breakdown showing which countries are planning on drawing down troops, which ones will maintain troop levels, and which ones plan to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, as well as how the troop levels will change over the next 18 months.