Europe Welcomes Obama’s Afghanistan Speech but Few Pledge Troops

December 2, 2009 - 11:23 PM
While European leaders and top diplomats have hailed President Obama's speech defining the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, few countries were forthcoming Wednesday with pledges of fresh troops.~~
Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan

Caption: U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, gives a briefing to coalition and Afghan officers in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009. (AP Photo)

Paris (AP) – European leaders and top diplomats hailed President Barack Obama's speech defining the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, but few countries were forthcoming Wednesday with pledges of fresh troops.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy commended the speech as "courageous, determined and lucid" but stopped short of offering more soldiers from France, the fourth largest contributor to NATO's Afghan effort.

In neighboring Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle praised Obama's speech as supporting Germany's position that a political solution for Afghanistan backed by military support was the only way forward. Like France, Germany indicated that troop increases will not be discussed until after a London conference on Afghanistan in late January.

Speaking just hours after Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 fresh U.S. troops to Afghanistan, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that European and other U.S. allies will contribute more than 5,000 more troops to the international force in Afghanistan.

Fogh Rasmussen says the best way to overcome widespread public opposition in Europe is 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 says the alliance may hand over 10 to 15 districts to the Afghan authorities next year.

Fogh Rasmussen did not specify where the 5,000 additional troops would come from and how many would be from Europe – and reluctance for major new troop contributions was palpable Wednesday across the continent.

Westerwelle praised Obama for making clear there must be an end to the mission.

"We agree with the U.S. president, that there cannot be only a military solution, but what we need is a political solution that is supported by the military," Westerwelle said.

He and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, said their countries remained committed to helping build up and training the Afghan police force.

Of the major European continental powers deployed in Afghanistan, only Poland indicated a solid willingness to send more troops. A Polish official said the government will likely send 600 reinforcements to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan.

Government spokesman Pawel Gras said the decision still needs approval from Prime Minister Donald Tusk's cabinet and from President Lech Kaczynski, the supreme commander of the army.

Most European nations appear willing to keep current troop levels for now, but they all want to see an exit strategy.

The U.S. now has 71,000 troops in Afghanistan, while other NATO members and allies collectively have 38,000 service members there. With the added reinforcements, the international forces will grow to more than 140,000 soldiers.

The Afghan army has about 94,000 troops, and is slated to expand to 134,000. The Afghan police number about 93,000 members.

The U.S. and Afghan forces face an estimated 25,000 Taliban insurgents.

At the height of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, its forces in that country totaled 118,000 troops.

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop welcomed Obama's speech. The Netherlands, the seventh largest force in Afghanistan, has some 1,600 troops in restive southern Afghanistan who are due to leave next August. The Dutch parliament has passed a nonbinding motion saying it does not support extending the mission.

France and other European countries have stressed the need for civilian efforts to be strengthened, including more training for teachers and medical personal.

However Sarkozy and Kouchner did leave the door open Wednesday for a possible future, new French troop commitment.

France already has nearly 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, but media reports say the U.S. has asked France to commit 1,500 additional troops. Sarkozy has previously said no additional French troops would be sent to Afghanistan.

Henri Guaino, a special adviser to Sarkozy, told France-Inter radio "France is a responsible country and intends to assume its responsibilities."

"It doesn't make sense to say 'no, no, no' to everything straightaway," Guaino said. "For the moment, no decision has been made one way or the other, we'll see how the situation develops."

In his speech, Obama announced he would deepen the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more troops to fight the Taliban, and called for additional commitments from U.S. allies. He pledged that the first troops would return by July 2011 and stressed that Afghan forces would be rapidly trained to take over the fight.
Italian troops in Afghanistan

Italian soldiers with the NATO led- International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009. (AP Photo)

Key allied pledges to the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan

Firm pledges are expected at a force-generation conference next Monday, and following the international conference on Afghanistan in January.

NATO officials say they expect 20 nations to commit new forces.

In the past week:

-- Georgia: up to 1,000.

-- Macedonia: 80.

-- Poland 600.

In the past month:

-- Britain: 500.

-- Montenegro: 40.

-- Slovakia: 250.

-- South Korea: up to 500.

-- Spain: 250.

Two countries have announced the withdrawal of their existing contingents in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011:

-- Canada: 2,800 soldiers.

-- Netherlands: 2,100.

(Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Mike Corder in The Hague and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.)