NATO struggling to fulfill commitments for more troops in Afghanistan

NATO troops from Turkey stand guard near the site of a suicide bombing in Kabul that wounded eight American troops.
NATO troops from Turkey stand guard near the site of a suicide bombing in Kabul that wounded eight American troops. (Altaf Qadri/associated Press)
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NATO is struggling to make good on commitments to deploy extra forces to Afghanistan, one month after the Obama administration said it was counting on the alliance to send as many as 10,000 more troops to serve alongside U.S. soldiers.

On Tuesday, Germany said it would send 500 reinforcements to Afghanistan, disappointing U.S. officials, who had been pressing Berlin for at least three times that number. German officials, facing stiff domestic opposition to the war, said they would instead double their development aid to Afghanistan and begin withdrawing soldiers in 2011.

"We have nothing to be ashamed of," Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin. "It was not the case that the Americans asked us what we wanted to do, but rather we determined ourselves what we intend to do."

After President Obama announced his revised Afghan strategy in December, including the deployment of 30,000 more U.S. troops, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said allies had pledged about 7,000 "fresh forces." He also raised expectations that further commitments would be announced soon.

NATO leaders had been lobbying Germany and France, in particular, ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for Thursday in London. On Monday, however, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his previous refusals to send additional combat forces to Afghanistan, although he held out the possibility of dispatching more military trainers and civilian aid workers.

NATO has not provided a precise breakdown of where its promised 7,000 new troops will come from. But it appears that only about 4,000 of those forces were not previously announced or deployed.

For instance, U.S. State Department officials have acknowledged that NATO is counting 1,500 troops sent to Afghanistan last year to provide security for the August presidential election; they will remain in the country, instead of returning home as originally planned.

Similarly, U.S. and NATO officials have touted the forthcoming deployment of 900 soldiers from Georgia, which is not a member of NATO, even though the government in Tbilisi had committed to the mission well before Obama announced his revised Afghan strategy.

NATO is also excluding the planned withdrawal of some forces from Afghanistan this year, including the entire Dutch contingent of about 2,000 soldiers, scheduled to leave in December.

Daniel Korski, a senior analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to the Afghan government, said NATO members routinely inflate their troop commitments.

"Every nation fibs a little, and when you aggregate all the small fibs, it's hard not to come up with a big fib," he said.

The reluctance of NATO allies to do more is a long-standing complaint in Washington, dating to the George W. Bush administration. But U.S. officials said they are increasingly frustrated by the unwillingness of European countries to provide more trainers to build up the Afghan army and national police, a cornerstone of NATO's strategy to stabilize the country.

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