The Magazine

'Proactive Self-Defense'

NATO takes over in Afghanistan.

Jul 3, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 40 • By MAX BOOT
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It has taken a lot of public prodding and behind-the-scenes diplomacy on the part of the Bush administration (for which it has gotten scant credit among critics who bemoan American "unilateralism") to get NATO to commit a force as substantial as the one in Afghanistan. There are already 9,000 coalition troops in the country (not counting American soldiers), a number due to grow to 17,000 by the end of the summer and larger still in the fall. But will European states keep sending soldiers for the many years that it will take to make any significant progress? And how will they react when they take the inevitable casualties?

Given all the risks attendant to NATO's takeover, it would be shortsighted to see this as an excuse to prematurely pull out U.S. forces. There are currently 20,000 U.S. troops in the country, but Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seems eager to withdraw at least 4,000 and possibly more. He is also reducing U.S. support for the Afghan National Army, which was supposed to reach 70,000 soldiers (itself an inadequate figure) but will now number less than 50,000.

There is no doubt that U.S. forces are overstretched, but they are also at war, and it is a war they could still lose. It's not cheap or easy to keep the Afghan government afloat. But it would be a lot more expensive to see it go under.

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard. His latest book, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, will be out in October from Gotham Books.