NATO chief urges allies to fill Afghan troop shortfall

3rd December 2009, Comments 0 comments

With Washington sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan over the next six months, NATO warned that the Afghan mission must not become an American operation.

Brussels -- NATO's chief urged allies Wednesday to join the United States in a major troop surge in Afghanistan, with thousands more soldiers needed for a new strategy to seize the initiative from the insurgents.

With Washington to send 30,000 troops over the next six months in an effort to defeat Al-Qaeda and its Taliban backers, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the Afghan mission must not become a US operation.

"I call on all the allies to boost their troop numbers in Afghanistan," he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"This is not just America's war," he said. "What is happening in Afghanistan poses a clear and present danger to the citizens in all our countries."

"The balance within the alliance is at stake," he warned.

The top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan has called for 40,000 extra troops to implement a new approach to defeat Al-Qaeda based on protecting Afghan civilians in towns and cities, rather than hunting down fighters.

US President Barack Obama said earlier Tuesday that he is sending 30,000 more troops to "seize the initiative" and end an unpopular war with mounting casualties and start a pullout in July 2011.

Rasmussen expressed optimism that US allies and partners in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), made up of more than 70,000 troops from over 40 nations, could plug most of the gap.

Other NATO members and their partners "will send at least 5,000 soldiers to this operation, and possibly a few more thousand on top of it," he said.

"I think you will see some pledges right now, and some at a later stage" once an international conference on Afghanistan is held in London in January, he said. "Then you will see a build-up of troops during 2010."

NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels from Thursday, and some nations might make public new contributions, while military officers meet Monday in Belgium for a "force generation conference".

For the moment though, only around 3,000 personnel have been committed -- with the major pledges involving 1,000 troops from Georgia, a possible 600 from Poland, 500 from Britain and from partner South Korea.

Officials say a further 1,500 soldiers would be drawn from contingents sent to provide security for the fraud-marred presidential elections on August 20, some 700 of which were provided by Britain.

A small core of NATO heavyweights -- France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain -- will wait until after an international conference on Afghanistan in London in late January, involving the United Nations and the EU among others.

"Before the conference on Afghanistan and the strategic discussions that will take place during that conference, a debate on troop levels and German participation is neither sensible nor appropriate," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday.

"It is about setting goals and strategy first and then seeing what instruments can be used to achieve them."

Pressure is mounting on France to find 1,000 troops, but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner promised Paris would consider its stance in the run-up to the conference, but suggested any extras would be civilians, police or technicians.

"There's nothing to say that we don't need to adjust" he told France Inter radio, but added: "For the moment there's no need to increase the number of troops."

Many nations are also plagued by economic problems, overstretched armies deployed in Iraq or the Balkans and growing military and civilian casualties, and are losing appetite for a fight that has dragged on for eight years.

The lack of support is leaving NATO's mission, its most challenging ever, increasingly in US hands. Of the roughly 150,000 troops who might be deployed, some two-thirds will be American.

Lorne Cook/AFP/Expatica

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