U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will soon endorse a plan to boost the Afghan army and restructure the military command of U.S. and NATO forces, according to NYT:
Mr. Gates plans to reshape a command structure that has divided the NATO and American missions in Afghanistan, a system now viewed as unwieldy in the face of increasing insurgent violence, senior Pentagon and military officials said. Under an order expected to be signed by Mr. Gates before the end of August, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the four-star Army officer who leads the 45,000-member NATO force, would be given command of most of the 19,000 American troops who have operated separately. (The NATO force already includes about 15,000 other Americans.)
Placing ISAF and OEF under unified command is a decision long overdue, but I will tell you right now, from the perspective of one very reluctant ISAF contributor, that it will put new strains on the unwieldy alliance.
So far, governments in countries like Germany, Sweden and Finland have been able to reassure their voters that there are actually two operations in Afghanistan, a bad war-fighting one (OEF) and a good peace-keeping one (ISAF). The fact that ISAF has been fighting a war in the south since 2006 has so far eluded these electorates, but when the commands are unified — even if the two missions are not merged — it will quickly become an issue.
In Finland, one of the reasons for the parliamentary consensus on keeping a contingent in Afghanistan has been the fact that ISAF has been separate from the American war effort. This is clearly stated in all parliamentary documents relating to Finnish support for ISAF. With the demarcation line fading, it will be increasingly difficult for the government to convince legislators that Finland is not fighting America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan.