European and other U.S. allies will contribute more than 5,000 more troops to the international force in Afghanistan, NATO’s chief said on Wednesday, declaring that “this is not just America’s war.”
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke just hours after President Barack Obama announced the new deployment of 30,000 fresh U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
“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,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
This will be in addition to the 38,000 troops allied nations have there now, he said.
Mr. Obama said the intention would be for U.S. troops to begin leaving Afghanistan 18 months following the build-up, if conditions are right. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said NATO and U.S. forces would hand over responsibility for securing the country to the Afghan security forces “as rapidly as conditions allow.”
“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,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said.
Committing additional troops for Afghanistan is a tough sell for many allied governments at a time of economic crisis and shrinking defence budgets. Polls show that most Europeans oppose sending more soldiers into what many see as an unwinnable conflict.
So far, only Britain, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Georgia, South Korea and tiny Montenegro have indicated a willingness to contribute more troops to the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan.
But Mr. Fogh Rasmussen expressed confidence that more countries would come forward at a conference at NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, next Monday. He said other large contributors - such as France and Germany - will await the outcome of an international conference on Afghanistan in January before they commit to deploying any reinforcements.
“I can confirm that the allies and our partners will do more, substantially more,” he said.
Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said the best way to overcome the widespread public opposition in Europe was by demonstrating progress in the war. This can be done by starting to transfer to Afghan control parts of the country where the security situation is good, he said.
He said the alliance may hand over 10 to 15 districts to the Afghan authorities next year, the first step in a wider transfer of responsibility for security to the Kabul government.
“Nobody is speaking an exit strategy, what we are talking about is a transition strategy, a transition to Afghan lead,” he said. “We will not leave Afghanistan behind, we will stay until the Afghans are able to run the country themselves.”
In a related development, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, said on the political level there was broad-based support among allies for Mr. Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan.
“Some countries are ready now to make commitments to provide additional troops or additional funds, some are now just examining it,” he said in Athens, Greece. “We understand that they need a little bit of time to digest exactly what the president proposed.”
NATO officials have said Washington expected the allies to provide up to 10,000 troops over the next few months.
Although Mr. Obama wants more combat troops from the allies, the prime emphasis will be on military instructors to train the expanding Afghan army, officials said. Other top priorities will include funding to pay for the training program, the new Afghan troops, and equipment.