French air force Gen. Stéphane Abrial almost made big news last week when he spoke to an audience of senior U.S. military officials and defense policy experts.
Unfortunately, he left out a bit of information of the kind that could spark a more public examiniation of how NATO's International Security Assistance Force does business in Afghanistan.
The story: Abrial, the first European to head the alliance's U.S.-based Allied Command Transformation, was giving a talk -- titled "International Perspectives: Developing Global Partnerships " -- at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
During his Jan. 21 address, Abrial touched on the problem of intelligence sharing among ISAF nations during operations in Afghanistan. Almost in passing, he noted just how bad it still is, according to a transcript of the relevant section later provided by a spokesman.
And of course working in a coalition poses the very real question of the sharing of intelligence. Operations in Afghanistan have shown the difficulties arising from an insufficient ability to do it. Inability to access national intelligence justifying a target being placed on a Joint Prioritized Effects List has kept whole nations outside much of the targeting process. On the other hand, some nations will not share intelligence which could result in kinetic actions.
Naturally, we were curious as to which sharing-averse nations Abrial was referring to.
It took a few days to get this question straight with the folks at ACT. In their initial response they acknowledged that, yes, we captured the general's comments correctly in formulating our question.
But which countries was he talking about? He won't say, Abrial's spokesman, Roy Thorvaldsen, told us in an e-mail.
"I don't think GEN Abrial would want to drop any names," one public affairs officer said to another, according to e-mails exchanged within the command.
"This is all that you are going to get out of this," Thorvaldson finally told us, after we prodded again. "Remember that NATO is an Alliance of 28 individual nations and a complex political balance. A Strategic Commander needs to be very careful not to step on any toes."