The EU civilian mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL, "has proved its value and is regarded as a key player" Kees Klompenhouwer, Head of the EU Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC), told MEPs on Monday. EUPOL is "taking the lead" in police reform in the country and "the coordination between EUPOL, the United States and NATO has greatly improved over the last year", he added.
More staff needed
Nevertheless, logistical and security problems and a lack of flexibility by the Member States continue to hamper EUPOL's work, especially in the provinces, he said, and called for an increase in the mission's staff. EU Police Mission Head Kai Vittrup said "I want the mission to cover the entire country" but to do that "we need accommodation, we need staff, we need flexibility by the Member States".
Mr Vittrup said there was close coordination between EUPOL and the Afghan Interior Minister in the fight against corruption, especially among high-ranking officials. "We are chasing them", he promised. On sharing intelligence, the head of mission said the only way forward was "to have one unit in charge" instead of four different units acting independently.
Thijs Berman (S&D, NL) emphasised the need to strengthen the Afghan police and institutions. "Afghan ownership is key", agreed Kees Klompenhouwer. "We go slower than when we do it ourselves but that is part of ownership". Whatever is done is "Afghan-owned"; "we have to make sure that we are building a reliable Afghan police", added Kai Vittrup.
Michael Gahler (EPP, DE) asked about cooperation between the EU and NATO and if the lack of a security agreement affected cooperation at local level. "Yes, it does, we have been operating in a grey zone", admitted Mr Klompenhouwer.
Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA, DE) agreed that the staff of EUPOL was too small. We should not be "euphemistic", "what we are doing at the moment is not enough", he concluded.
Sabine Lösing (GUE/NGL, DE) asked about the separation of civilian from military missions. Mr Klompenhouwer said EUPOL's prime mission was to provide the Afghan government with the basis for civilian security: "It is a complement to the military side", he said.
US Political Minister Counselor Christopher Davis acknowledged the EU was a key partner for the US and welcomed the plan for strengthening EU action.
The US government's main ambitions for the London conference were: to strengthen the coordination of international assistance to Afghanistan, to bolster the fight against corruption, to improve governance and human rights, to step up the fight against insurgents and to plan the transition to fully Afghan leadership. Mr Davis said President Obama's troop surge would establish the conditions for creating the context for the transition of power.
Thijs Berman (S&D, NL) argued that the comparison of Afghanistan's situation with Iraq seemed dangerous as in the latter resistance was fragmented, with no safe havens. In his response Mr Davies agreed that a comprehensive approach was needed. We need an influx of troops to allow the civilian population to carry out work for long-term state building, he added.
Johannes Van Baalen (EPP, NL) wondered how the Counselor saw the EU-US joint decision-making process regarding Afghanistan. Mr Davis stressed that military coordination took place in NATO. He added that other aspects would start in London and consultations would continue this week. "We want to concentrate on building up the civilian infrastructure", he concluded.
No premature withdrawal
Zia Nezam, Head of the Mission of Afghanistan to the EU, confirmed the mission was "absolutely essential" and encouraged the EU to continue its efforts. He admitted 2009 had been the "deadliest year" of the war with violence increasing in some regions. Mr Nezam said terrorist groups had recently had better training and equipment, better tactics, communication and coordination. The problem should be tackled at its roots, he argued, namely in safe havens and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.
Mr Nezam welcomed the new US Afghanistan strategy and agreed the gradual handing over of responsibilities to Afghan security forces was crucial. Nonetheless, he stressed that a "premature withdrawal of troops is not an option" and "this cannot be foreseen".
While Afghanistan is still a very poor country, per capita income has tripled compared with the level under the Taliban regime, he said. Following several MEPs' questions about the drug trade, he said in recent years drug production had dropped by 16% and land used for poppy cultivation had decreased by 40%.