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Afghanistan: Global NATO's First Ground War In Its Tenth Year

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Afghanistan: Global NATO's First Ground War In Its Tenth Year
Rick Rozoff

The military alliance that 61 years ago identified its core mission as to "promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area" is now embroiled in the tenth year of a war in Afghanistan launched by its dominant member, the United States.

South Asia is as far removed from the North Atlantic Ocean as possible while remaining in the Northern Hemisphere.

After "promoting stability and well-being" in the Balkans in the last decade by conducting a three-week bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) in 1995 and a 78-day air war against Yugoslavia four years later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervened in Macedonia in 2001 and shortly thereafter invoked its founding treaty's Article 5 - "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and...each of them...will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith...such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force" - on September 12, 2001.

In doing so NATO signed on for participation in Washington's so-called Global War on Terror, last year renamed Overseas Contingency Operations and perhaps to be called something else tomorrow as pretexts shift.

As a consequence and demand alike of doing so, the North Atlantic Alliance deployed military forces to the first major military base the Pentagon has secured in Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and on October 4, 2001 launched Operation Active Endeavour to patrol the entire Mediterranean Sea from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Suez Canal and the Dardanelles Strait, ostensibly to - in NATO's own words - "help detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity" and especially to "combat...the proliferation and smuggling of weapons of mass destruction." The terrorism-weapons of mass destruction link was an obedient reflection of Washington's rhetoric at the time, though the second half of the combination has been shifted away from Iraq toward Iran as the 2003 invasion of the first failed to locate any weapons of mass destruction as well as connections to al-Qaeda.

No vessel enters or leaves the Mediterranean except under NATO surveillance. The Alliance's ships have hailed over 100,000 commercial vessels and boarded an admitted 155 or more. "Since April 2003, NATO has been systematically boarding suspect ships....[M]erchant ships passing through the Eastern Mediterranean are hailed by patrolling NATO naval units and asked to identify themselves and their activity. This information is then reported to both NATO's Allied Maritime Component Commander in Naples, Italy, and the NATO Shipping Centre in Northwood, England." [1]

Without a mandate from the United Nations or attempt to obtain one and no justification under international law, the U.S.-dominated military bloc arrogates to itself the right to stop, board (peaceably or otherwise) and search any ship in the Mediterranean and in theory to seize its cargo and detain its crew, even to impound the ship itself. What is tantamount to a blockade of the entire sea if not what if perpetrated by a non-state actor would be condemned as piracy on the high seas.

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NATO's Active Endeavour is now in its tenth year and there is no indication that it will ever end, even though not a single terrorist has been apprehended or a weapon of mass destruction confiscated. When an Israeli German-made Dolphin submarine, assumed to carry missiles with nuclear warheads - the ultimate weapon of mass destruction - crossed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in June of 2009, NATO made no attempt to interdict it.

The Mediterranean Sea has become NATO's mare nostrum.

A similar situation exists in the Horn of Africa where NATO nations have deployed troops to Djibouti since the beginning of the century to join 2,000 American and 3,000 French troops based in the small nation. Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands are or have been among the troop contributors. By no later than the beginning of 2002 Germany had more than 1,200 soldiers, several warships and spy planes based there, with the second component at the time representing "Germany's biggest naval deployment since World War Two." [2] It also based surveillance aircraft in Kenya in early 2002, where NATO warships have docked since.

In March of 2009 NATO began rotating the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) off the Horn of Africa, first with Operation Allied Provider until August of 2009 and since with Operation Ocean Shield, which has been extended for over three years more. As with Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, NATO warships in the Gulf of Aden will never leave voluntarily.

This March NATO began airlifting Ugandan troops into war-torn Somalia where they are belligerents in the armed conflict and not peacekeepers. 1,700 were flown in and 850 out.

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But it is in Afghanistan, and of late Pakistan, that NATO has emerged as a global combat force. With the recent transfer of tens of thousands of U.S. troops from Operation Enduring Freedom to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Alliance now has the most troops under its command in a foreign mission in its history: 120,000 in Afghanistan compared to 60,000 in Bosnia in 1995, 50,000 in Kosovo in 1999, several thousand in Djibouti since 2001 and a smaller force in Macedonia starting in the same year.

Afghanistan is also the theater furthest from its European territory NATO has even deployed troops to and the war there is the bloc's first military conflict in Asia and its first ground war.

The Afghan war is also the battleground on which NATO has lost its first soldiers in combat operations.

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Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Is the manager of the Stop NATO international email list at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stopnato/

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