NATO allies confirmed pledges on Monday for nearly 7,000 additional troops to serve alongside the 30,000 committed to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama, amid "clear indications" that even more European reinforcements could follow in coming months.
The Obama administration expects its allies to provide up to 10,000 fresh forces. Counting the allies, the 30,000 new U.S. troops, and the 106,000 foreign soldiers already serving in Afghanistan, the international force would number over 140,000 by the middle of next year.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement that a force-generation conference Monday at NATO's military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, had confirmed earlier promises of nearly 7,000 new troops.
"I should add that we also have clear indications of additional contributions to come in 2010 that will bring the total contribution by the non-U.S. members of the mission to in excess of 7,000," he said.
Germany and France have said they will wait for next month's London conference on Afghanistan before deciding on whether to deploy more forces. The two countries are among the largest NATO contributors, with 3,100 and 4,300 troops respectively, but their contingents are dwarfed by America's 71,000 soldiers.
The ability to secure additional troops for the escalating war at a time of growing public opposition in Europe is seen as a crucial test of NATO's relevance as a credible military partner to the United States.
Monday's conference was attended by military representatives of all 28 allies and 15 other nations contributing troops to the international force in Afghanistan, officials said.
"There is now more work to be done to turn these basic figures into capability on the ground, and in particular to focus on the critical area of training the Afghan security forces," Fogh Rasmussen said in his statement.
During a meeting of NATO foreign ministers attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Friday, Fogh Rasmussen said that 25 nations had come up with a tentative total of nearly 7,000 troops.
Meanwhile, NATO military chief Adm. James Stavridis said he expected a "significant proportion" of the reinforcements to be instructors for the expanding Afghan security forces.
"We are really emphasizing training as the success strategy," Stavridis told reporters. "We're talking to each of the allies and asking them what training capabilities they can offer up, and we're getting a very good response on that."
A newly established allied training mission will require large numbers of instructors and mentors to enable the planned rapid expansion of the security forces.
The Afghan army has about 94,000 troops, and is slated to expand to 134,000 next year. The police force numbers about 93,000 members and is also expected to grow significantly.
Stavridis said that he expects NATO's garrison in Kosovo to be reduced in size next year from its present 10,000 troops to just "a few thousand." Some have suggested that the units freed up in the process could also be sent to Afghanistan.
"In terms of whether the troops are going to be able to go on other NATO missions, that'll be up to individual nations," Stavridis said.
Monday's meeting in Mons is part of an annual effort during which member nations commit forces for all the alliance's military missions. The national military representatives earlier committed units to NATO's naval anti-piracy and anti-terrorism patrols, and for Kosovo.
The move to significantly expand the allied and Afghan security forces comes at a time when NATO's European members are tightening defense budgets in response to the global economic downturn. Many governments also face overwhelming public opposition to the war, which many voters see as unwinnable.