No New Commitments for NATO Afghan Force

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 13, 2006; 1:52 PM

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO failed Wednesday to win new troop commitments urgently needed for its Afghanistan campaign, but the alliance said a 10-day offensive to dislodge Taliban fighters from their southern strongholds was achieving its goals despite the shortage of troops.

"No formal offers were made at the table," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after an emergency gathering aimed at finding contributions for an expanded force.

But he told a news conference some allies had given "positive indications" on the reinforcements, but suggested final decisions may have to wait until a Sept. 28-29 meeting of NATO defense ministers in Slovenia.

That delay likely would mean the extra troops would not deploy early enough to be used against the Taliban before the onset of the Afghan winter, when NATO's top operational commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, fears the insurgents will slip back to their mountain hideaways to regroup.

Jones launched the appeal for more troops last week, saying the extra troops could help deliver a decisive blow to the Taliban in the region.

But Appathurai said the southern offensive was moving ahead. "Operation Medusa is going well," he said. "It is not complete yet, but I can tell you that a significant proportion of the objective has now been taken, in fact over two-thirds of the objective has now been taken."

The operation was launched Sept. 2 as a response to Taliban attacks in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, which surprised NATO troops deploying into the south this summer and dragged the Western alliance into its first major land battles since it was founded in 1949 to defend Europe from Soviet attack.

Appathurai said the NATO force on the ground had enough troops for that operation, which was focused on the Zhari and Panjwayi districts neighboring Kandahar, an area of roughly 50 square miles.

However, he said NATO is still urging allied governments to provide up to 2,500 extra troops, which commanders believe could be decisive in wider battles with the Taliban across the southern region.

European allies, with thousands of troops already committed elsewhere in Afghanistan or in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Congo and most recently Lebanon, are wary of sending more to the battlefields of Kandahar and Helmand, where recent fighting has killed more than 30 NATO troops and hundreds of militants.

Their reluctance has raised fresh concerns about NATO's unity and brought appeals from leaders of those nations in the spearhead of the anti-Taliban operations.

"It is important that the whole of NATO regards this as their responsibility," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference in London. "NATO is looking at what further requirements there are and NATO and NATO countries have got a duty to respond to that."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Associated Press