NATO warned that sending more troops to Afghanistan was no “silver bullet,” saying allies should prepare for a lengthy struggle demanding even more patience and resources.
Addressing the 28 NATO foreign ministers after US President Barack Obama announced 30,000 more troops for Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the conflict with the Taliban required a “true team effort.”
“Of course there are no silver bullets, no magic solutions. It will still take more time, more commitment and more patience to reach our shared goal,” he said after a one-on-one meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Since Obama made his announcement, NATO says more than 20 countries have put forward plans to send extra forces, but the total commitment may still fall short of the 10,000 extra troops and trainers that Pentagon officials had originally hoped for.
Rasmussen said on Thursday he expected US allies to provide at least 5,000 extra troops and probably a few thousand more -- but the commitments will take time to come through.
The extra troops will increase total foreign forces to about 140,000 -- a significant effort to retake the initiative against the Taliban after more than eight years of conflict.
However, the Netherlands and Canada plan to withdraw combat forces of 2,100 and 2,800 in 2010 and 2011, reflecting public unease with the war, while key allies France and Germany appear more willing to send trainers than combat troops.
Even with the extra troops, the US- and NATO-led alliance faces a struggle to coordinate its efforts and regain the upper hand against an insurgency that has strengthened over the past year, expanding into previously stable regions of Afghanistan.
NATO still needs over 200 more police and military training teams to boost Afghan forces so they can eventually take over security responsibility and allow foreign forces to withdraw.
Speaking ahead of the foreign ministers' meeting, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called it a vital week in the war and said pressure was on allies to commit themselves.
“Every single foreign minister attending this meeting and every single government is to ask themselves whether they are doing everything possible on the military and civilian side to ensure success in Afghanistan,” he said.
“The badlands of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are a threat to people everywhere, whatever their religion, and that's why it's very important that we make progress at this time.”
Clinton said she was confident allies would support US calls for more troops, but acknowledged that some may not yet be ready politically to go public with new commitments.
Clinton said the United States was seeking a range of help, including civilian assistance and military training, to prepare Afghanistan to take charge of its own destiny. “We've got to bring the Afghan security forces into the fight,” she said.
Military officials of NATO states are due to meet on Monday to raise forces officially for the Afghan mission, but Germany is among those expected to wait until after a January 28 conference on Afghanistan in London before committing any more forces.
Its foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said Germany was ready to do more in civilian development efforts and to train Afghan police, but added: “Further debates are to our view currently not appropriate.”
Clinton said she could discuss with allies questions surrounding the timeline for Afghanistan. US officials have been scrambling back from suggestions that mid-2011 has been set as a firm date for the start of a troop withdrawal.
Clinton repeated that Washington hoped to begin transferring responsibility to Afghan forces within about 18 months, but that this was not a cut-off point for US support. (Reuters)