Obama's Afghanistan war speech partly a bid for more foreign troops
In his Afghanistan war speech Tuesday, Obama is expected to call for more US troops to fight. But he'll need as many as 10,000 new foreign troop commitments, too, to get to the force size military commanders say is needed.
Washington — President Obama's speech next Tuesday laying out his plans for Afghanistan is aimed first at the American public, but another crucial audience is overseas at NATO and in foreign capitals where the president will be seeking additional troop contributions.
Mr. Obama is expected to call for about a 50 percent increase in US troops over the 68,000 already fighting in Afghanistan.
But that number will not reach the 40,000 additional soldiers that US military commanders are seeking. A key part of the president's plan will be to reach the military's goal for an expanded fighting force through foreign contributions, say administration officials and some Afghan war policy analysts.
"At the end of the day, I believe that between what President Obama announces and what the allies end up putting in will get us to General McChrystal's 40,000," says Lawrence Korb, a national security policy analyst and a former Pentagon official, referring to the troop request made to Obama by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
While some pledges have already come in, initial reports suggest that US partners in Afghanistan will reach only about the halfway mark in the approximately 10,000 additional soldiers Obama will ask them to contribute. Instead of sending more troops, some NATO members, like Canada and The Netherlands, are instead drawing up plans to pull out.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown predicted earlier this week that some NATO countries would together come up with about 5,000 additional troops. In a letter to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Mr. Brown said a majority of the 10 NATO members and other partners that British officials had contacted in recent weeks intend to send additional troops, police trainers, or civilian development workers.
Some officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels, however, caution that new contributions are not likely to jump immediately as a result of Obama's new Afghanistan strategy. They note that London is planning to host an international conference on Afghanistan in early January, and that some countries are likely to wait for the results of that conference before making additional commitments.
One of those countries is Germany. At a news conference in Berlin Wednesday with Mr. Rasmussen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would wait for the results of the London conference before deciding "whether and which additional activities we will take on, particularly in the area of training."
Germany has the third-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan, after the US and Britain.
Rasmussen is visiting or contacting NATO members with the message that it is essential that Obama's announcement of increased US troop levels be met with a round of commitments from allies and partners.
"[Rasmussen] is making it clear that this is not just about the US, this is about the future of the NATO alliance," says Mr. Korb, now at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "He knows that Obama has to be able to convince the American public that it's not just us – that our allies are in this as well."
Many leaders of NATO countries face the same public opposition to the Afghanistan war that Obama faces in the US: that the war has become too costly, both financially and in terms of military casualties, and that the government of newly reelected Afghan President Hamid Karzai is too corrupt to be a viable partner in defeating the Taliban.
But some allied leaders are starting to go public with their concerns that Obama's long deliberation on a future course in Afghanistan is taking a toll on support for the war in their countries. This week British Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth publicly complained that a "period of hiatus" in Washington is making it harder for his government to persuade the British public to keep supporting the Afghan mission – especially in the face of a rising death toll.
That followed earlier criticism from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said an absence of American leadership left the allies with "no plan" in Afghanistan.
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