NATO: Afghan War Model For Future 21st Century Operations
As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization unveils its first 21st century strategic doctrine in Lisbon this week, its first ground war and war outside Europe is in its tenth year with no end in sight.
The invasion of and subsequent nine years of combat operations in Afghanistan are logical - inevitable - results of the military alliance's last Strategic Concept adopted at its fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington, D.C. in 1999. At the time NATO was waging its first full-scale war, the 78-day Operation Allied Force bombing assault against Yugoslavia, and had absorbed the first of what are now twelve members in Eastern Europe: The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
Launching an unprovoked war of aggression and operating outside the territory of NATO member states - and outside international law without a United Nations mandate - inaugurated the U.S.-controlled military alliance as a global warfighting organization. The war in Afghanistan beginning in the first year of the new century and millennium represented the further implementation of the 1999 Strategic Concept, itself the first since 1991, the year of the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union.
As NATO described the last Strategic Concept: "At the Washington Summit meeting in April 1999, the NATO Allies approved a strategy to equip the Alliance for the security challenges and opportunities of the 21st century and to guide its future political and military development." 
There are now 140,000 troops (the bulk of them American) from 50 nations serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, more than were assigned to the bloc's previous out-of-area deployments - 60,000 in Bosnia in 1995 and 50,000 in Kosovo in 1999 - combined.
The Afghan conflict is also the first battleground on which NATO has suffered war dead. 825 of the 2,223 foreign troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 (1,174 since last year) are from NATO member states other than the U.S. and from NATO partnership allies. Subtracting the dead from non-NATO countries - Australia (21), Georgia (5), Sweden (5), Finland (1), Jordan (1), New Zealand (1) and South Korea (1) - 2,188 of the foreign war dead are from NATO nations and 790 from Alliance states other than the U.S.
A recent report estimates the number of Afghans killed in the war at 100,000. Deaths caused by U.S. drone attacks and NATO helicopter gunship raids in Pakistan are also mounting, approaching the 2,000 mark.
A veritable chorus of recent comments from American, NATO and NATO ally officials has confirmed the war that will be in its eleventh calendar year on January 1 will continue to 2014, beyond 2014 and even for decades longer.
This week NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill said "that the transition process may run into 2015 and beyond, and that after foreign troops step down from combat roles the country could see 'eye-watering levels of violence,'" whatever the last expression was intended to connote.
The use of the word transition instead of exit was a calculated choice. It echoes a comment made by the chief American civilian operative for the war, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, as reported by Pajhwok Afghan News on November 11. (Sedwill and Holbrooke divide up on the "diplomatic" side what General David Petraeus combines on the military one as chief commander of all 152,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.)
On November 10 Holbrooke "asserted the US had 'no exit strategy' for Afghanistan, and instead a 'transition strategy' would be unveiled in the Portuguese capital" during the NATO summit.
"After 2014, the diplomat continued, the international community was not going to be leaving Afghanistan." 
A British newspaper announced on November 15 that General Sir David Julian Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, claimed "this week's Nato summit will outline plans to keep British troops in Afghanistan for a generation," and "Nato now needs to plan for a 30 or 40 year role to help the Afghan armed forces hold their country against the militants." 
If it proves to be accurate, Richards' projection could entail the U.S. and NATO spending half a century in Afghanistan.