'Allies will help' Afghan surge

2009-12-02 21:01

Brussels - The Nato chief said on Wednesday that alliance members would send at least 5 000 troops to back the new US surge of 30 000 extra soldiers, but key nations made no immediate offer to help.

Britain, which already has the second biggest contingent in Afghanistan, has promised to send another 500 troops but other Nato allies have been reluctant to answer US pleas for more help to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Germany and France, both reluctant to send more troops, said they will wait until a London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 to decide on further action.

But Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said US allies "will send at least 5 000 soldiers ...and possibly a few more thousand on top of it."

Nato foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss Afghanistan, where more than 40 countries have troops.

"I think you will see some pledges right now, and some at a later stage" after the London conference, Rasmussen said. "Then you will see a build-up of troops during 2010."

He said he would recommend the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) begin handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces from next year.

There are currently about 113 000 US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, where the insurgency is at its deadliest since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

Unite behind Obama

Britain currently has about 9 500 troops in the international force, Germany 4 300 and France 3 750.

"I call on all our allies to unite behind President Obama's strategy," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said after Obama's announcement.

"Britain will continue to play its full part in persuading other countries to offer troops to the Afghanistan campaign."

Italy has said it will send an unspecified number of reinforcements, while Poland is considering deploying several hundred.

Czech Defence Minister Martin Bartak said on Wednesday Prague could send a further 100, and Turkey said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would discuss Ankara's contribution when he sees Obama in Washington next week.

Announcing the new surge, Obama vowed to "seize the initiative" to end the conflict and start a pull-out in July 2011, nearly 10 years since Western troops forced the Taliban out of Kabul. He cranked up pressure on Nato members for more troops, saying they too were threatened by Afghan-based terrorism.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he "provides his full support" for Obama's strategy and called "on all countries which want to help the Afghan people to support it," but said France would wait until the London conference to review its contribution.

London conference

Sarkozy said France wants to hear clear commitments from Afghan leaders on taking over responsibility for security, which will allow the international community to review its efforts.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle reiterated comments made on Tuesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel that she would also wait for the London conference, adding that security would not be solved by military means alone.

"Before the conference on Afghanistan and the strategic discussions that will take place during that conference, a debate on troop levels and German participation is neither sensible nor appropriate," he told reporters.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged to send more police trainers and civilian aid experts but did not offer more troops beyond the 1 550 that Australia has already there.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen hailed the boosting of the "international mission" in Afghanistan, but Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop promised no new troops.

On the contrary, he said, the government had not decided whether to extend the deployment of nearly 1 800 Dutch troops beyond August 1 2010, which is opposed by a majority in parliament.

In Kabul, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesperson said the government welcomed the new strategy. But there is also pressure for more political efforts.

But a Taliban spokesperson warned that the extra troops would provoke further resistance and would "withdraw shamefully".