Obama warns NATO allies over terrorism

4th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

As anti-summit demonstrators clashed with riot police protecting the fortified NATO summit venues in the French city of Strasbourg and Germany's nearby Baden-Baden, Obama beat the drum for his new Afghan strategy.

Strasbourg -- US President Barack Obama warned his European NATO allies Friday that they face a greater risk of terror attacks than America and that he needs their help to defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

As anti-summit demonstrators clashed with riot police protecting the fortified NATO summit venues in the French city of Strasbourg and Germany's nearby Baden-Baden, Obama beat the drum for his new Afghan strategy.

"It is probably more likely that Al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States, because of proximity," said Obama after arriving from London for the NATO summit.

"We would like to see Europe have much more robust defence capabilities. That is not something we discourage, we are not looking to be the patron of Europe, we are looking to be partners with Europe," he said.

Europe "should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone," he added later.

Britain, Germany and Spain will offer reinforcements to boost security during August's presidential election in Afghanistan, and France will send some police, but it was not clear what long-term help would be available.

Obama was therefore to use the NATO summit, the second leg of his maiden trip to Europe as president after a G20 economic summit in London on Thursday, to drum up support for his new Afghan strategy.

There are 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, mostly under NATO command, battling Taliban insurgents, whose tenacious rebellion is spreading from the rugged and lawless tribal regions around the border with Pakistan.

Obama has decided to send 21,000 extra US troops and is considering deploying 10,000 more, while asking Europe to contribute by providing more soldiers as well as civilian support staff to train the police.

"NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history. The basic premise of NATO was that Europe's security was the United States' security, and vice-versa," Obama said, standing alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obama's predecessor George W. Bush struggled to convince reluctant European allies to increase their commitment, but the new US national security adviser General James Jones has predicted that NATO is now ready to up the ante.

The only new soldiers announced since the start of the talks are from Britain, which is said to be readying several hundred troops to join the 8,000 it already has in Afghanistan over the election period.

"The prime minister is prepared to consider an increase in troop numbers on a temporary basis to provide additional security for the upcoming president elections in Afghanistan," a Downing Street official told AFP.

NATO's 60th anniversary summit, starting Friday evening with a dinner for all 28 heads of state and government, was to be held in the French city of Strasbourg and on the German side of the River Rhine in Kehl and Baden-Baden.

Landing in Strasbourg in the afternoon, Obama held his first bilateral talks with Sarkozy before hopping over the border in a helicopter to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany ahead of the summit proper.

Merkel agreed at her news conference with Obama that Afghanistan could not be allowed to become a "failed state" and to emerge once again as a "base for Al-Qaeda."

As if to underline the urgency of the Afghan review, a soldier in the 42-nation NATO-led force in Afghanistan was killed Friday and another wounded in a "hostile incident", the military said in Kabul.

There was meanwhile trouble in France where hundreds of protesters clashed with the 10,000-strong force manning the security cordon around the Strasbourg venue for the second day running.

The leaders Friday also discussed who will replace NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer when he steps down in July, with frontrunner Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen under fire from Turkey. Talks continue Saturday.

AFP/Expatica

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