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Europe Must Get Serious in Afghanistan

By Ed Koch

We are now at a point where a discussion at the highest government levels, Congress, the President, and of course, the public, should take place to determine the relevance of NATO in the lives of Americans.

Now and since October 7, 2001, four weeks after 9/11, when the United States went to war against Afghanistan and the Taliban as a result of Afghanistan's Taliban government's support of al-Qaeda when the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda took place, our NATO allies were challenged to help us.

In the beginning, our NATO allies publicly stated an attack upon one of us in the alliance was an attack on all of us. Yet, here we are more than six years later and very few of our NATO allies are providing frontline combat troops in that war, and some of those actually there are threatening to leave or reduce their forces. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates according to The New York Times on February 11, 2008 "issued a stark warning on Sunday to Europeans, saying that their safety from terrorist attack by Islamic extremists was directly linked to NATO's success in stabilizing Afghanistan."

Gates, according to The Times, "summoned the memory of September 11, 2001, to say that Europe was at risk of becoming victim to attacks of the same enormity." Gates "listed terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris and Glasgow and said other terrorist plots, some complex, had been disrupted before they could be carried out in Belgium, Germany and Denmark and a airlines over the Atlantic."

The Secretary went on to refer to an arrest by Spanish authorities of 14 extremists in Barcelona "suspected of planning suicide attacks against public transport systems in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Britain," all of which are member nations of NATO. Spain was the first nation to desert us in Iraq pulling out its meager combat forces after a terrorist act was committed in Madrid on March 11, 2004, resulting in 191 deaths and 1,800 injuries. Spain's withdrawal from Iraq has not given it privileged status free from terrorist threats coming from Islamic terrorists bent on the destruction not only of the United States, but of all nations that make up Western civilization which the Islamic extremists believe must be destroyed. Their plans include the destruction of moderate Arab states allied with the U.S. whose governments the extremists want to replace with Islamic republics that will be joined in a caliphate headed by a religious leader similar to that existing in Iran.

The American government believes and I agree that as Secretary Gates stated, "the task facing Europe, the United States and allies around the world 'is to fracture and destroy this movement in its infancy -- to permanently reduce its ability to strike globally and catastrophically, while deflating its ideology' [and] 'the best opportunity as an alliance to do this is in Afghanistan.'"

Gates pointed out according to The Times "that while many NATO governments appreciate the importance of the Afghan mission, European public support for it is weak. Many Europeans question the relevance of our actions and doubt whether the mission is worth the lives of their sons and daughters."

I believe the same attitude exists in the U.S. which is deeply divided on how to respond to the threats coming from al-Qaeda and Islamic fanaticism in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The ongoing war in Iraq places a greater burden on NATO nations to respond to our request for help in that many NATO nations point to U.S. failure to obtain a resolution from the United Nations to "bless" the undertaking of war against that country. But that excuse does not exist with respect to waging war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and many NATO countries still decline to join in combat and implement the core belief that the attack of 9/11 on the U.S. was an attack upon each of them.

So now with our country's military resources overextended, our economy facing a recession, the American public's weariness in the face of casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe we should create a new NATO, ending the old, making it clear that any nation belonging must agree to implement the belief that an attack upon any one of us is an attack upon all of us, and that applies retroactively to the current situation in Afghanistan.

Since the end of World War II, European countries were protected against Soviet aggression by U.S. military forces and treaty commitments. Under President Putin the soon-to-be Prime Minister of Russia, European countries once again feel threatened by Putin's recent statement, "We will have to retarget our missiles on the objects that we think threaten our national security."

That new NATO should require that anyone seeking our military protection must agree to help the U.S. at least in Afghanistan with combat troops if it wants to join in the new alliance that will take NATO's place.

The Times in an editorial of February 12, 2008 summed up the situation, "As Mr. Gates rightly noted, Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is a war that began in response to a terrorist attack on the United States, and the fight to defeat the Taliban is fully backed by international law, the United Nations and is a solemn legal commitment of NATO." It's time to ask: If NATO won't keep its commitment to us, what do we owe to NATO?

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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