NATO Official Says Afghanistan Mission Became Unrealistic by Trying to Rebuild Country

NATO's mission in Afghanistan became unrealistic and when it started trying to help rebuild the country suffering from poverty and conflict, an official said Wednesday. Assistant Secretary-General for Operations John Manza, along with 30 of NATO's deputy national envoys, are working to build a report on the nearly two decades of work the agency completed in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

In 2003, NATO assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a multinational military mission that lasted until 2014, nearly two years after a U.S. led coalition invaded that nation to push back against the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden, the AP reported. Manza said that at first NATO stationed roughly 5,000 troops in and around Kabul, but the organization's began focusing on "tackling the root causes of terrorism" with rebuilding efforts.

"You have to ask, and we've been asking this a lot in the committee I chair, were these goals realistic that we had at the time?" Manza said.

He added that though the international community did not seem to be reaching objectives in Afghanistan, "our response to the poor progress…was to do more."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

John Manza
NATO’s mission in Afghanistan became unrealistic and a “mission of creep” when it started trying to help rebuild the country suffering from poverty and conflict, an official said Wednesday. Above, John Manza and Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning Patrick Turner take part in an on on-line meeting of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 1. Johanna Geron/Pool via AP

Manza and the deputy national envoys were tasked with compiling the report after the Afghan president fled and the NATO-trained Afghan army collapsed when President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. was pulling troops out, paving the way for the Taliban to seize power.

Manza told European Union lawmakers that of the big lessons being discussed by his team—which also includes input from military and political experts, including from Afghanistan—"the most obvious one is mission creep."

Adding to the initial 5,000 troops, NATO troop numbers increased to around 60,000 by 2006, with military-civilian teams spread around the largely lawless country trying to foster economic growth and better governance in almost every province.

"This really substantial increase did not have the desired effects," Manza said. "The insurgency was still gaining strength. The nation was still suffering greatly from corruption and governmental performance was not improving."

Under a "surge" ordered in 2009 by then U.S. President Barack Obama, NATO troops numbers climbed even more, to over 100,000 while international aid to Afghanistan was substantially increased. The excess aid money began fueling already rampant corruption.

"Now looking back, it was clear that this massive effort could not be sustained over a long period of time, so these were transient efforts in the various provinces," Manza said.

Manza shared initial findings of his committee's work with NATO defense ministers last week. He is due to submit his final report to the alliance's foreign ministers when they meet on November 30 to December 1.

Afghanistan
In 2003, NATO assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a multinational military mission that lasted until 2014. A shopkeeper sweeps the front of his shop in Kandahar on October 27. Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images