Afghanistan tops discussion during NATO meetings
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 10:44 am
A President’s Day recess for the U.S. Congress turned out to be a busy interlude for Congressman John Tanner of Union City.
The veteran Democratic congressman returns to the United States this weekend after a week-long flurry of meetings with top officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe.
NATO, based at Brussels, Belgium, is a 26-member military alliance of democratic states in Europe. Its civilian counterpart is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly comprised of legislators from member states.
Tanner was recently elected president of NATO-PA.
In a phone interview Wednesday, he briefed several members of the media about a House delegation’s visit to Europe. He was joined in the conference call by Congresswoman Joann Emerson, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Tanner said they arrived in Brussels at midnight Saturday. The round of meetings began Sunday morning with the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, followed by attending sessions of the NATO-PA committees.
The focus of the briefing was on NATO efforts in Afghanistan and the continuing relationship with Russia as it relates to eastern Europe.
The strategy of Congress in this regard is to increase European engagement with NATO allies in Afghanistan.
“As you know, (President Obama) committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and our ambassador to NATO said he really needed us here to engage the parliamentarians of other NATO member nations,” Tanner said. “Parliamentarians are responsible for budgets. And the Europeans, some of them, (have) restrictions on deployed troop activity in Afghanistan.”
The delegation then met with NATO Secretary General Jaap du Hoop Scheffer for lunch, and later that day with Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, deputy chairman of the NATO military committee, “and who, we are told, could be the next U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.”
On Monday, the delegation attended a session of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest political body, which consists of the ministers and ambassadors from all the member nations.
“We had several hours of debate and meetings about the situation in Afghanistan and NATO’s mission there (as the International Security Assistance Force),” Tanner said.
Next on the hectic schedule was a meeting at Mons, Belgium, with Gen. John Craddock, supreme allied commander of “SHAPE” — the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. He is in charge of NATO’s military.
“The future of NATO and its mission in Afghanistan is as critically important to our nation’s security as anything I can think of right now as it relates to the worldwide threat of terrorism,” Tanner said.
He said a noteworthy accomplishment of the meeting was the reintegration of the French military into the NATO military command. “We need their help. They have some of the best intelligence operations in North Africa and the world,” Tanner said. “We’ve always maintained that not only is the military arm of NATO important, but also the intelligence gathering aspects of it, because if we can find out when, where and how they’re planning to attack us again anywhere in the NATO constellation, we have a better chance of stopping it.”
Today Tanner and the delegation are scheduled to visit a NATO school in Germany where officers of the various member nations are trained to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. The delegation plans to visit the Marshall Center in Germany, named for Gen. George Marshall who crafted the Marshall Plan for postwar Germany. The plan helped Germany recover from the war and not fall into the hands of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
“We will be meeting with the commanding officers of those two institutions in southern Bavaria before we come home this weekend,” Tanner said.
Published in The Messenger 2.20.09