NATO allies pledge 7,000 more troops for Afghanistan effort

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 5, 2009

BRUSSELS -- NATO allies welcomed President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy Friday, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received pledges of 7,000 extra troops to back up the U.S. escalation.

Twenty-five countries have announced that they will deploy additional troops next year, and more contributions are expected "during the coming weeks and months," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

However, officials were still trying to nail down some of the promises.

In addition, U.S. diplomats have some heavy lifting ahead, with Germany and France uncertain about increasing their forces. In addition, the U.S. government hopes to dissuade two other major contributors -- Canada and the Netherlands -- from their plans to pull out within two years.

Friday's meetings marked a sort of roadshow for Obama's new Afghanistan strategy, which was announced Tuesday and features the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to fight the Taliban and train Afghan security forces. Clinton and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, briefed the 44 NATO and non-NATO countries involved in providing security in Afghanistan.

Although the war has become increasingly unpopular in Europe, Rasmussen said the nations made clear that they supported the mission.

"The strongest message in the ministerial room today was solidarity," he said.

U.S. officials said some Europeans were initially confused by reports that portrayed Obama's strategy as including a U.S. pullout in 2011. Clinton emphasized that troops would only start to leave that year -- and that the size and speed of the drawdown would depend on prevailing conditions.

"Once they saw what the policy really was . . . they were quite comfortable with it," one senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Some countries could find the plan for a drawdown helpful in selling the strategy to their publics, officials said.

U.S. officials said they were pleased with Georgia's pledge of more than 900 troops and Italy's promise of about 1,000 forces. Britain will provide 1,200 troops, including 700 sent earlier to safeguard elections, officials said.

Clinton conceded that some of the promised 7,000 troops were military or police trainers, not combat forces. But she said some trainers would accompany Afghan security forces as they deploy.

"I am just extremely heartened by the level of positive response we've received. Certainly the commitment of troops and additional civilian assistance is a tangible sign of that," Clinton said. "I was also very touched by comments made both publicly and privately from ministers throughout the world" about the new strategy.

France and Germany, however, did not budge from their decision to wait at least until a Jan. 28 meeting on Afghanistan in London before committing to any increases. They are among the largest contributors of troops, with 4,200 and 3,750, respectively. The U.S. government had asked each to provide at least 1,000 more, according to diplomats and news media reports.

Rasmussen declined to give a country-by-country breakdown of the troop commitments. More specifics may emerge Monday at a special force-generation conference, especially from smaller countries.

The U.S. government is also seeking contributions for funding the Afghan army and police.

The number of non-U.S. military forces in Afghanistan has risen from about 17,000 to nearly 44,000 in two years, according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The United States has about 70,000 military personnel in Afghanistan.

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