NATO: Allies will provide 5,000 more troops

Pledges of additional troops came in small numbers from small nations

Topics: Afghanistan,

European and other U.S. allies will contribute more than 5,000 more troops to the international force in Afghanistan, NATO’s chief said Wednesday, declaring that “this is not just America’s war.”

Still, with the exception of new combat troops from Poland, the pledges of additional troops came in small numbers from small nations. European powers like France and Germany praised President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan but were noticeably silent on the offer of new troops.

Reacting to Obama’s call for more help, a Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan.

Albania said it would look favorably on increasing its 250 member unit, while Spain’s El Pais daily said the defense ministry was considering sending 200 more soldiers to its 1,000 contingent. Italy declared it would do its part and Finland confirmed that it had been asked to consider sending more troops and would do so next week.

However, the largest contributors — Britain, France and Germany — held off on new troop pledges, waiting for an Afghanistan conference in London planned for late January. French presidential spokesman Luc Chatel said President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to “give himself some time.”

Earlier, Sarkozy commended Obama’s speech as “courageous, determined and lucid.”

In neighboring Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle praised Obama’s speech as supporting Germany’s position that a political solution for Afghanistan backed by military support was the only way forward.

Speaking just hours after Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 fresh U.S. troops to Afghanistan, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued the strongest words of support.

“In 2010, the non-U.S. members of this mission will send at least 5,000 more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand more,” Fogh Rasmussen told reporters. “This is not just America’s war, what is happening in Afghanistan poses a clear and present danger to the citizens of all our countries.”

This will be in addition to the 38,000 troops allied nations have there now, he said.

Rasmussen did not specify where the troops would come from and how many would be from Europe.

Westerwelle praised Obama for making clear that there must be an end to the mission.



“We agree with the U.S. president, that there cannot be only a military solution, but what we need is a political solution that is supported by the military,” Westerwelle said.

He and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, said their countries remained committed to building up and training the Afghan police force.

Poland’s offer will beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. Government spokesman Pawel Gras said the decision still needs approval from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s cabinet and from President Lech Kaczynski.

Italy, which has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, said it would help without specifying any numbers.

“Italy will do its part, knowing that in the Afghan conflict that is at stake is not just the future of the Afghan people, but also NATO’s credibility,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement.

The U.S. now has 71,000 troops in Afghanistan, while other NATO members and allies collectively have 38,000 service members there. With the added reinforcements, the international forces will grow to more than 140,000 soldiers.

The Afghan army has about 94,000 troops, and is slated to expand to 134,000. The Afghan police number about 93,000 members.

The U.S. and Afghan forces face an estimated 25,000 Taliban insurgents.

At the height of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, its forces in that country totaled 118,000 troops.

Finland said it had received a request to add to its 100 soldiers, which are part of a Swedish-led Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop welcomed Obama’s speech, but it was not clear how the country would react to Obama’s call. The Netherlands, the seventh largest force in Afghanistan, has some 1,600 troops in restive southern Afghanistan who are due to leave next August. The Dutch parliament has passed a nonbinding motion saying it does not support extending the mission.

France and other European countries have stressed the need for civilian efforts to be strengthened, including more training for teachers and medical personal.

However Sarkozy and Kouchner did leave the door open Wednesday for a possible new French troop commitment later.

France already has nearly 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, and media reports say the U.S. has asked France to commit 1,500 additional troops. Sarkozy has previously said no additional French troops would be sent.

Still, Henri Guaino, a special adviser to Sarkozy, told France-Inter radio “France is a responsible country and intends to assume its responsibilities.”

“It doesn’t make sense to say ‘no, no, no’ to everything straightaway,” Guaino said. “For the moment, no decision has been made one way or the other, we’ll see how the situation develops.”

Sarkozy must weigh his choices carefully. The war is unpopular with much of the French left, and regional elections in March will be a key indicator of Sarkozy’s popularity and chances to win a second presidential term.

——

Seward reported from Paris. Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Mike Corder in The Hague, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Alessandra Rizzo in Rome contributed to this report.

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