Jerome Delay/Associated Press
An Afghan vehicle cleared a NATO checkpoint run in part by French Foreign Legion forces northeast of Kabul this month. The United States is seeking more help from NATO in Afghanistan.
Published: November 25, 2009
WASHINGTON — The United States is scrambling to coax NATO allies to send 10,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s strategy for the region. Those countries appear willing to provide fewer than half that number, American and allied officials said Wednesday.
NATO members and other foreign allies have expressed reluctance to send more soldiers because of the Afghan war’s growing unpopularity in their countries and increasing concerns over corruption in President Hamid Karzai’s government.
The Obama administration views a substantial contribution from its allies as a way to keep the American troop increase lower and blunt domestic political criticism of the Afghan war. It would also allow the administration to come close to the military’s request for 40,000 additional troops without relying totally on the already stretched American armed forces.
After weeks of deliberation, Mr. Obama is to announce his Afghan war policy on Tuesday. Administration officials say that a strong speech explaining Mr. Obama’s strategy for achieving success would provide them with fresh ammunition to galvanize support in foreign capitals.
The administration confronts several hurdles to garnering more allied contributions. In Britain, which has pledged an additional 500 troops, Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth said Tuesday that Mr. Obama had taken too long to decide on a new strategy, harming the British government’s ability to rally public support for the war.
The British government is facing opinion polls showing that around 70 percent of the public favors an early withdrawal. That figure has nearly doubled in the past six months, as the country has sustained its worst casualties — 97 killed so far this year — since it first deployed troops to Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled in 2001.
Germany and France have balked at committing any more forces to a war that has so little public support that they can barely maintain current troop levels.
The Netherlands and Canada have begun discussing plans to pull out. Canadian defense officials told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in Halifax last week that they had no intention of sending troops in the future, and that they remained committed to withdrawing by the end of 2011.
Even if the allies make commitments for 5,000 or more new troops after the president’s address on Tuesday at West Point, NATO officials say, those commitments will include troops already in Afghanistan to provide security for recent elections and trainers for the Afghan Army and the police.
And it remains unclear whether several thousand NATO and other foreign troops are really the equal of a similarly sized American force in terms of military capacity. Some countries may continue to restrict how their forces may be employed. In addition, a force that is cobbled together from too many nations — a few hundred here and a thousand there — might not have the unit cohesion of an American force, military analysts said.
Washington has not yet made formal troop requests to allies, but there have been diplomatic and other conversations seeking commitments in principle, carried out by senior American officials; the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen; and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain.
Mr. Obama’s aides have signaled that he intends to commit close to 30,000 additional American troops, on top of the 68,000 already there.
The president is likely to ask NATO allies to fill the gap between whatever new American troop contribution he announces and the approximately 40,000 that the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, favors to carry out his proposed counterinsurgency strategy, according to administration officials. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy had not been formally announced.
After Mr. Obama gives his speech and Mr. Rasmussen delivers a statement of support, NATO foreign ministers are to meet in Brussels next Thursday and Friday to discuss Afghanistan. But troop commitments are not likely to be discussed in detail before a so-called force-generation conference on Dec. 7, also in Brussels, American and allied officials said.
Informal commitments of several thousand additional allied troops have already been made, but they include some of the 10,000 more European troops that were sent to Afghanistan by governments last year, as well as troops sent for the recent presidential election, NATO officials said.
While some countries are planning to pull these troops out, “there will be pressure on allies to keep those forces in Afghanistan,” a senior NATO official said.
Mr. Rasmussen spent Wednesday in Rome, for instance, talking to the Italian government about that very topic, and it appeared ready to send more troops, officials said. Mr. Rasmussen has also been to Warsaw, which officials said would contribute more troops.
Mr. Brown said Wednesday that he was “now optimistic,” after canvassing allies, that a number of countries “will indeed make available increased numbers of troops, and more police trainers and civilian support.” He said he hoped the figure would be 5,000 troops.
Other NATO officials said that figure was roughly accurate, even low. With new contributions expected from Poland, Italy and Britain, the major exceptions for the moment are Germany and France, the officials said.
Georgia, which is trying to secure its ties to NATO and its future membership in the group, has agreed to send another company, officials said, and may end 2010 as the largest non-NATO contributor.
France, however, is standing firm on its refusal to consider sending more troops beyond the 3,750 now in Afghanistan. It increased its troops by a battalion of 800 last year, added 200 more this year, and plans to send 150 more gendarmes to help train the Afghan police, said Christophe Prazuck, a spokesman for the French military.
From Nov. 1, France has also redeployed its troops out of Kabul into a new task force with 2,500 troops based east of the capital. But President Nicolas Sarkozy told the newspaper Le Figaro in mid-October, “France will not send a single soldier more.”
The new German government has not committed to more troops, but Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told military leaders in Berlin on Tuesday that “Germany will rethink and adjust, maybe even strengthen its military commitment to make Afghanistan a success.”
The German mandate to keep its troops in Afghanistan is up for approval by Parliament in December. Right now the country has roughly 4,300 soldiers there. Mr. Guttenberg has steadfastly maintained that the government will not review the level of forces until after an international Afghanistan conference at the end of January, though he recently authorized an additional 120 soldiers to help deal with the worsening situation in northern Afghanistan.