NATO chief: Allies will provide 5,000 more troops

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 2, 2009; 2:28 PM

BERLIN -- NATO allies promised Wednesday to back up President Obama's revamped Afghan war strategy with thousands of fresh troops from Europe. But the reinforcements will arrive in piecemeal fashion, and their contribution may end up being less than meets the eye.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged that U.S. allies would "send at least 5,000 more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand on top of that." He told reporters in Brussels, "This is not just America's war. This is our fight, together."

But European military officials acknowledged that the figure of 5,000 extra troops included many forces that are either already in Afghanistan or were previously scheduled to begin arriving in 2010. For instance, 1,500 European soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan for last summer's national election campaign are now being counted on to remain indefinitely.

NATO also still needs to find replacements for European combat forces that are expected to withdraw next year. The Netherlands, which has 2,100 troops in Afghanistan, is scheduled to end its mission overseeing security in restive Uruzgan province by August 2010.

One of the biggest contributors of new foreign troops could be Georgia. NATO officials have said they are counting on the former Soviet republic -- which is not a member of NATO but is eager for closer ties to the alliance as a bulwark against Russia -- to send 900 soldiers. Most of those, however, have been announced previously and are already receiving pre-deployment training from U.S. and French forces.

So far, only two major European countries have responded to the U.S. overtures with solid promises of extra help. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced last week that London would send 500 new troops, bringing its total deployment to Afghanistan to 10,000 -- second only to that of the United States.

In Warsaw, meanwhile, Polish officials said their government was likely to send at least 600 more soldiers, on top of the 2,000 Polish forces already in Afghanistan. A formal announcement is expected Thursday.

Other big countries have been more vague. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that Rome would bolster its mission in Afghanistan but did not give details. In any case, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said this week that no new deployments would be possible until next summer because Italy lacks the necessary funds.

Despite prodding by the White House in recent weeks, Germany and France have declined to make any firm commitments, saying they would await the outcome of an international conference on Afghanistan, scheduled for Jan. 28 in London.

What duties the additional NATO forces will be able to perform is another open question. Many European countries have placed fighting restrictions on their troops in Afghanistan, barring them from active combat zones or offensive operations.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, "does genuinely want more troops, but they've got to be good and they've got to be able to operate with the U.S. and U.K. forces," said Paul Cornish, head of the international security program at Chatham House, a London research institution. "What he doesn't want are token troops."

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