The US administration’s request for more troops from its Nato allies has won little practical support in Europe, as small countries pitch in modest troop reinforcements while bigger armies are held back.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, rallied behind Washington’s plan, announced on Tuesday, to send 30,000 more forces to Afghanistan, pledging 5,000 more troops from Nato members.
But the full extent of extra resources coming from the military alliance remains unclear.
Speaking on Wednesday, Rasmussen said “this is not just America’s war,” yet in many capitals, including Paris and Berlin, military committments are few and far between.
Most European countries appear reluctant to send more soldiers to a war that often looks unwinnable and in support of an Afghan government tainted by corruption and election fraud.
Some leaders are looking to an international conference on Afghanistan in London next month before promising any more troops.
“The United States has lost a bit of its credibility as a leader,” said Florentino Portero, professor of the National Open University in Madrid.
“Many leaders, both European and non-European, feel that because of domestic political reasons, [Barack] Obama [the US president] is not willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to win.”
Poland is leading European offers of combat troops.
|The UK is the second largest foreign army in Afghanistan, with 10,000 soldiers [AFP]|
A Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan.
“It’s one of the biggest investments in Afghanistan, and in a mission most Poles oppose,” said Marcin Zaborowski of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.
“This is a major gesture of solidarity.”
But the offer needs approval from the cabinet of Donald Tusk, the country’s prime minister and Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president.
Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, had already committed an extra 500 troops before Obama’s request, bringing the UK presence up to 10,000 soldiers.
Albania also agreed to send more soldiers, pledging 85 troops to add to its 235-strong presence.
And Macedonia’s president promised to deploy an extra 80 soldiers in February, raising the strength of its contingent of 250.
The Czech defence ministry floated the possibility of sending 100 more troops to add to 535 approved for deployment next year. The offer would need parliament’s go-ahead.
Spain’s El Pais daily said the defence ministry was considering sending 200 more soldiers to its contingent of 1,000.
Not so keen
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, promised to take part “to save Nato’s credibility” but gave no troop pledges.
“The United States has lost a bit of its credibility as a leader. Many leaders, both European and non-European, feel that because of domestic political reasons, Obama is not willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to win“
Florentino Portero, professor of the National Open University in Madrid
However, Ignazio La Russa, Italy’s defence minister, told Corriere della Sera that the country may send up to 1,000 additional soldiers.
Finland said it would consider next week whether to reinforce troops.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, praised Obama’s speech as “courageous” but gave no hint of sending more soldiers.
Sarkozy said recently he would not expand the 4,000-strong French force in Afghanistan, and Luc Chatel, the French presidential spokesman, said Sarkozy wanted more time to respond to a US request for 1,500 more French troops.
Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, praised Obama for making clear that there must be an end to the mission.
“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 building up and training the Afghan police force.
The US 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 is claimed to have 94,000 troops, and is slated to expand to 134,000. The US and Afghan forces face an estimated 25,000 Taliban fighters.
The foreign ministers of Nato nations and their allies in Afghanistan will meet late on Thursday to discuss the new strategy for Afghanistan and other issues.