U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arriving Friday at NATO headquarters, welcomed an expected series of announcements by allied nations of additional military, civilian and financial support for the war effort in Afghanistan.
Ms. Clinton was attending a string of meetings here with allied foreign ministers and with representatives of non-NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan, plus Russia. She sought to sell President Barack Obama’s revamped war strategy, which banks on major new allied contributions, not just to escalate the combat effort but also to bolster civilian functions and provide more development aid.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, also was to attend the meeting of NATO’s main political council to explain the 43-nation military mission, which he has sought to revise and reinforce since he took over command last June. He has described conditions in the fight against Taliban extremists -- now in its ninth year -- as serious and deteriorating.
Allied governments need to be able to sell their publics on the idea of enlarging the war, and particularly those countries in which political parties share power have to be sure “the political stars are in alignment” before they announce new commitments, Ms. Clinton said.
Ms. Clinton made the comments in an interview with reporters travelling with her from Washington. She departed the U.S. capital Thursday shortly after testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where she joined Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in defending the president’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Ms. Clinton told reporters she was pleased that allies have responded positively to the Obama plan.
“We are encouraged that they are going to -- beginning (Friday) but not ending (Friday) -- have a number of public announcements about additional troop commitments and additional civilian assistance and development aid, as well,” she said without naming any countries.
She said she had discussed the matter with her counterparts from 20 to 25 countries over the past week.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that the allies will contribute at least 5,000 more troops to the war effort “and probably a few thousand more.”
The U.S. now has about 71,000 troops in Afghanistan, while 42 other NATO and non—NATO nations have a total of 38,000 troops there. They are fighting a far smaller collection of Taliban militants who enjoy a haven across the border in Pakistan.
European countries have been reluctant to add large numbers of soldiers to a war that often looks unwinnable and to support an Afghan government tainted by corruption and election fraud. Some leaders are waiting for an international conference on Afghanistan in London in late January before promising any more troops.
Asked about the criticism that has focused on Obama’s decision to announce a date in 2011 to begin the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, Ms. Clinton said that it has been misunderstood by some and that others were simply seeking to create a controversy.
“There have been some misunderstandings about what that date meant,” she said, referring to Obama’s announcement that beginning in July 2011, the U.S. troop contingent would begin to be withdrawn. The administration has said the pace and scale of the withdrawal will be determined after a further assessment of conditions on the ground, starting with an administration review in December 2010.
“Some people seized on that, for whatever reason or lack of understanding, as a way to try to create a difference where I’m not sure there is one,” Ms. Clinton said.
She also took a gentle stab at the Bush administration’s approach to running the war. She said Afghanistan’s defence chief had told her last month that for the first time he felt like a full participant in the NATO military structure, as a result of changes made by McChrystal, who was appointed to the top command by Obama several months after he took office. Referring to the more limited Afghan participation before McChrystal’s arrival, she said, “That’s a little bit discouraging, when one looks back.”
Ms. Clinton also was scheduled to meet separately in Brussels Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for eleventh-hour talks on follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires at midnight Friday. Both sides have said they don’t expect to complete a draft agreement -- let alone get it ratified by their national legislatures -- before the existing treaty expires. But they hope to wrap it up by the end of December and to make arrangements for monitoring each other’s nuclear arsenals in the interim.
Upon her arrival in Brussels, Ms. Clinton’s aides said she had recorded earlier in the week two video messages directed at the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan to “echo the themes and messages” from Obama’s West Point speech on his Afghan war plan. The Ms. Clinton videos are available via the internet in Arabic, Dari, English, Pashto and Urdu, her aides said.