“RC South is a mosaic of different [NATO] countries,” he said. “There seems to be all these small regional wars.”
The United Kingdom is in charge of operations in Helmand province, the Canadians are in Kandahar, the Dutch in Uruzgan, and in Nabol the force is Romanian. “They are kind of fighting their own war,” he said.
In the past, the NATO commander in the south rotated every six months, and this encouraged this mosaic approach. The Dutch commander in charge now will serve a year, Tucker said. “It’s now on the right track,” he said.
And this is vital to success in the region, the general said, as the center of gravity in a counterinsurgency fight is not the enemy, it is the population.
“You have to build relationships with tribal elders, police chiefs, the local governments, provincial officials,” he explained, “and it’s hard to do that six months at a time.” Army Gen. David McKiernan, who commands all NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has stressed to commanders at all levels that they must get out with the people and build these relationships.
The fight in Regional Command South also is affected by what officials call “national caveats” — restrictions on how NATO commanders can use the military personnel of a particular country. Commanders assigning missions always must keep these restrictions in the back of their minds. U.S. forces have few caveats, and commanders can use American troops as needed.
“These caveats are strictly controlled by their national governments,” Tucker said. “Some of them, for example, can’t do a cordon-and-search without getting permission from their minister of defense. Some countries can’t conduct an air strike without permission. Some can’t cross a regional boundary with troops or helicopters without permission from their ministries.”
McKiernan has addressed these caveats with various national leaders and has highlighted the effects of those restrictions. “The advantages that we have over the enemy are often taken away from us by caveats,” Tucker said.
NATO has unmatched air power, but negotiating with various countries and asking for permission can take that advantage away, the general said. For example, he said, a medevac helicopter from one country could not cross a regional boundary to pick up wounded personnel in an incident over the summer.
That made an impression, Tucker said, and NATO defense ministers now are more apt to work to lessen the caveats.
“But more needs to be done,” Tucker said. “You can’t order. You need to nudge them in the right direction.”