Clinton seeks support over U.S. plan in Afghanistan

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 9:28 PM

BRUSSELS -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Brussels early Friday ahead of meetings with NATO ministers where she will seek to persuade European allies to pledge troops to strengthen the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan.

Clinton and other U.S. officials have been working the phones for days, trying to secure at least 5,000 soldiers from Europe and elsewhere to add to the U.S. surge of about 30,000.

"We are encouraged that we're going to, beginning tomorrow but not ending tomorrow, have a number of public announcements about additional troop commitments, additional civilian assistance and development aid, as well," Clinton told reporters minutes before her plane took off from Washington on Thursday.

Clinton was also planning to discuss how to coordinate the unwieldy civilian aid effort in the war-torn country, which involves the United Nations, dozens of countries and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations.

"We have a unified military command but we have an 'un-unified' international effort" on civilian aid, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

Clinton said her goal was a "coordinating mechanism" for civilian assistance, but U.S. officials denied that they are seeking a high representative. European countries are wary that any such position could marginalize the United Nations' representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after President Obama's speech Tuesday that U.S. allies would send at least 5,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, and possibly several thousand more. However, only a handful of countries have made their commitments public. Britain has promised 500; Italy has said it will send about 1,000; and Poland has said it is likely to provide at least 600.

Some countries are not expected to make commitments before an international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for Jan. 28 in London. They include Germany and France, who are among the largest contributors of troops, with 4,200 and 3,750, respectively.

U.S. officials have asked Germany for additional soldiers numbering "in the low four figures," one diplomat said. The request to France was for 1,500 more troops, according to a report in the newspaper Le Monde.

The U.S. government is also seeking contributions toward training, equipping and funding the Afghan army and police.

Clinton acknowledged that some countries were moving cautiously on the troop decision because of the war's increasing unpopularity.

"There is a desire to be able to explain it to the publics of various countries and to make sure that in coalition governments the political stars are in alignment to be able to announce additional commitments," she said.

Some countries may also feel they are already contributing enough. Non-U.S. military forces in Afghanistan have jumped from about 17,000 to nearly 44,000 in the past two years, according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. However, some are bound by strict, domestically imposed rules that limit where and how they can operate.

The United States had more than 71,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of November, according to the Pentagon.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company