US envoy: NATO to send more forces to Afghanistan

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2009 5:03 PM

U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke acknowledged Thursday that the war in Afghanistan is unpopular, given "the legacy of Iraq and Vietnam," but he predicted that NATO allies will soon contribute more forces to join the 30,000 additional U.S. troops being deployed there.

"We have been very gratified by the strong support of our European allies for President Obama's policy," Holbrooke, the president's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told journalists. He spoke before a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers that opens later Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will brief the ministers on Friday.

Obama's new plan for the war in Afghanistan calls for the dispatch of 30,000 more troops, but includes assurances that some of them will begin withdrawing in July 2011.

On Thursday, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said pledges from the alliance already have exceeded 5,000 troops. More than 20 nations are expected to make firm commitments at a force-generation conference on Monday, and following the international conference on Afghanistan in January, he said.

After Appathurai spoke, Italy _ which has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan _ announced that it will increase its contingent by about 1,000 soldiers starting next year. That will allow its force to take full responsibility for Western region of Herat, Afghanistan, and reduce the commitment of U.S. and British troops there. Armenia also announced it would send a small contingent of 40 troops to Afghanistan early next year, its first deployment as part of the international coalition.

Still, many European countries have been reluctant to add large numbers of soldiers to a war that often looks unwinnable, and to support an Afghan government tainted by corruption and election fraud. Some leaders are waiting for an international conference on Afghanistan in London next month before promising any more troops.

"I understand that the war is unpopular," Holbrooke said. "It's a long way off, and there's the legacy of Iraq and Vietnam."

But he also predicted that NATO members would announce more troops for Afghanistan at a series of meetings in the coming weeks. "Some countries may decide to speak tomorrow at the NATO ministerial, others will work it through the force-generation conference on Dec. 7, and others have announced already they are going to work toward the Jan. 28 date for the London conference," Holbrooke said.

France, Germany and other West European nations spearheaded opposition to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003, damaging relations between Washington and some of its closest allies.

But unlike al-Qaida, the enemies in Iraq and Vietnam did not pose a direct danger to the security of allied nations, Holbrooke said.

"Our core objectives in Afghanistan have not changed, but resources to achieve them have been increased," he said. Success will depend on close cooperation between all 43 troop-contributing nations and countries such as Japan, which provide development aid to the government in Kabul, he said.

Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, the spokesman for the 83,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, said that although more combat troops are needed, military instructors needed to train the expanding Afghan army and police also are a priority.

Other priorities include retaining trained troops in the government's army, he said. Low salaries and poor morale have contributed to a 1.5-2 percent desertion rate from the force, one of the highest in recent history.

So far, most of the pledges of additional troops have been small numbers from small nations. The largest contributors _ Britain, France and Germany _ are holding off on new troop pledges, waiting for the Afghanistan conference in London on Jan. 28.

Italy's defense minister said Thursday his country will send about 1,000 new troops. But the Turkish Foreign Ministry said that, while it is considering increasing its training of Afghan security forces, it will not participate in combat operations.

The U.S. now has 71,000 troops in Afghanistan, while other NATO members and allies collectively have 38,000 troops there. With the reinforcements, the international forces will grow to more than 140,000.

The Afghan army has about 94,000 troops, and plans to expand to 134,000. The Afghan police number about 93,000 members.

The U.S. and Afghan forces face an estimated 25,000 Taliban insurgents.