Wednesday, August 11, 2004

All glory but no muscle

If it weren't so serious, it would be comical. In the run-up to the presidential elections in Afghanistan, with the security situation deteriorating, the European Union, in all its glory is choosing this moment to plant its flag, taking command from Canada of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), set up under the aegis of NATO.

And, for "European Union", in this case, read France. The EU "rapid reaction force" is commanded by Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py of France, who became commander of the grandiloquently titled "Eurocorps" last September.

In its first deployment outside Europe since it was formed 12 years ago, Py leads soldiers from five nations: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. But the total contingent is to number only some 350 troops – equivalent to a reinforced company - as opposed to a "corps" which is usually three divisions.

So short of actual troops and equipment is the European force that NATO commanders are imploring Ottawa to keep its troops in position to beef up the military presence.

With some 7,000 troops, from 34 nations, in theatre, it is the Canadians who have been the backbone of the force, providing the cadre of experienced, well-trained troops and armoured vehicles that give ISAF its teeth. Including support elements in the Persian Gulf, about 2,300 Canadians have been involved in the Afghan peacemaking mission over six months.

The EU involvement, therefore is largely symbolic and the presence of the pitifully small Eurocorps contingent will do little to assist stabilising the increasingly critical situation, as Taliban remnants do their best to wreck the forthcoming elections. Once again, therefore, the EU is playing gesture politics, demanding the glory but not delivering the muscle.

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