NATO Needs More Troops for Afghanistan

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 8, 2007; 2:04 PM

SEVILLE, Spain -- NATO defense ministers were under pressure Thursday to find more troops for the alliance mission in Afghanistan ahead of an expected surge in fighting with the Taliban when the snow melts this spring.

NATO's new top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, was presenting ministers with a plan to "rebalance" the force of 35,000, using the more mobile combat units in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan where combat is expected to be most intense.

Allied officials said Craddock was seeking around 1,500 extra combat troops in addition to reinforcements recently announced by the United States and Britain, which supply more than half the soldiers in the force.

However, several European nations have resisted pressure to send more units, especially to the provinces in the south and east. In particular, the reluctance of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Turkey to provide more combat troops, has caused frustration among nations on the front lines.

"More countries should take responsibility," said Danish Defense Minister Soeren Gade. "If we do not send more soldiers to Afghanistan there is a risk that we may fail."

Denmark has 400 troops mostly serving in the dangerous south alongside the U.S., Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Romania, Estonia, and non-NATO member Australia.

A senior U.S. defense official accompanying Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the meeting said the NATO-led force must launch its own offensive this spring to pre-empt an attack by the Taliban, adding the push could be key to defeating the rebels.

"We think the upcoming spring in Afghanistan is a pivotal moment in the conflict, and we're encouraging the allies to do as much as they can, as soon as they can," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the planned discussions had not yet been presented to allies.

"The offensive should be our offensive. That's the offensive we've been communicating to the allies," the official said.

Washington decided last month to extend the tour of more than 3,000 of its soldiers and Britain plans deployment of 800 British combat troops to southern Afghanistan over the coming months.

Others have been less forthcoming.

Spain has said it will not add to its 550 troops in the west; Germany is expected to provide six Tornado reconnaissance jets, but not significantly augment its 3,000 troops in the north; the Italian government is struggling to secure parliamentary backing for finance needed to maintain a contingent of 1,950.

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