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Bush to Pursue Fresh NATO Commitments

Canadian soldiers remove the body of one of two colleagues killed in a suicide bombing yesterday in Kandahar.
Canadian soldiers remove the body of one of two colleagues killed in a suicide bombing yesterday in Kandahar. (By Allauddin Khan -- Associated Press)

The United States provides the largest number of NATO troops, with 11,800. Second is Britain, with 6,000; third is Germany, with 2,700; then Canada, with 2,500; followed by the Netherlands, Italy, France, Romania, Spain and Turkey. The United States also has several thousand troops who operate in Afghanistan outside the NATO umbrella.

In 2002 and 2003, NATO troops were confined to Kabul as the International Security Assistance Force. Over the past three years, the mission has been gradually extended to the entire country, with NATO troops moving into the east just last month.

In the past six months, NATO and U.S. troops have faced an unexpectedly aggressive insurgency by the revived Taliban militia. Officials report that attacks have increased fourfold since a year ago, reaching 600 a month, and that between 3,700 and 4,000 people have died in insurgent-related violence this year. The insurgents have also begun using suicide bombs, a new phenomenon for Afghanistan.

NATO commanders in Afghanistan have repeatedly asked for more troops and equipment. So far, only Poland has responded, pledging to send 1,000 troops in the new year.

The central message NATO commanders hope to deliver in Riga is "to put more in focus why we are here in Afghanistan," said Knittig, noting the country's importance in the wars against terrorism and drugs, and in the future security of NATO states. "We need to punch that message through."

Some European diplomats in Kabul expressed disappointment with the reluctance of NATO countries to send more troops and equipment.

"Some countries in Europe need to be reminded that Afghanistan is not just a faraway place we know little about," said Francesc Vendrell, the senior European Union representative in Kabul. "It is a country that is central to the security interests of the West. If Afghanistan were to collapse or the Taliban were to take over, the leaders would probably form close relations with al-Qaeda."

Ronald D. Asmus, executive director of the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Center in Brussels, said there is a gap between NATO's expressed desire to play a more active role in addressing world crises and its members' will to do so. "In the Cold War, no one would have dared to put a caveat on how their forces are used at the front lines," he said. "People don't really believe in their hearts that they need to take the big risks to succeed."

But U.S. officials said the mission in Afghanistan is succeeding. "When you take a look at it, obviously NATO was challenged by the Taliban when they moved into the south," said Judy Ansley, the senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council staff. "But NATO has responded very strongly. They've stood and they've fought, and have been very successful against the Taliban. So I don't see Afghanistan as being a mission in trouble or someplace where we have a problem."

Constable reported from Kabul.

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