NATO allies under pressure to supplement US troop surge

Washington is now seeking up to 7,000 more troops from NATO allies to supplement a US troop surge announced on Wednesday. NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for two-day talks are set to address the matter.


NATO foreign ministers have begun two days of meetings in Brussels centred on providing additional soldiers to supplement the US troop surge to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on Wednesday that he expected US allies to send 5,000 more NATO soldiers to supplement Washington’s troop surge of 30,000 soldiers announced by President Barack Obama this week.

The figure, however, falls short of the 10,000 troops and trainers Pentagon officials had sought. The top US and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has said he needs as many as 40,000 troops to win the war.

Obama’s new deployments will bring the total US force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000. Washington urged its NATO allies to boost their military presence to help end the eight-year-old conflict.

Rasmussen confirmed NATO’s commitment to defeat Taliban forces, insisting that the mission in Afghanistan was not the sole concern of the United States. "Instability in Afghanistan means insecurity for all of us," he said.

But despite the NATO commander’s resolve, key European leaders are reluctant to commit new forces to an uncertain military campaign that is increasingly unpopular at home.

Germany and France have said that they will take a decision only after a strategic discussion in a key conference on Afghanistan in London on January 28.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has suggested that any new deployments would be civilians, police or technicians.

Internal NATO crisis?

The hesitation to further commit European troops may trigger a crisis in NATO according to some analysts. Pierre Conesa, a former French defence ministry official, told FRANCE 24 that a critical debate could ensue if some countries oppose the troop surge plan.

“This is the year we are discussing the new strategy concept of NATO and we are already facing a main crisis in Afghanistan,” Conesa said.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the UK would boost its regular troops in Afghanistan by 500 to a total 9,500 by the end of the year. On Thursday, an Italian defence official told AFP that his government was considering sending up to 1,500 troop reinforcements.

Adding to NATO’s challenge, Netherlands and Canada plan to withdraw combat forces of 2,100 and 2,800 within the next two years. Australia has also expressed interest in hastening the pull-out of its troops.

Rasmussen said the exact contributing nation and precise numbers would be announced after January’s conference in London.

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