NATO countries pledge 7,000 more troops for Afghanistan

The NATO secretary-general announced the increase in troops Friday. The forces will come from 25 NATO countries.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    British soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force prepare to patrol the Sangin district Afghanistan's of Helmand province Wednesday.
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NATO countries are responding positively to President Obama's plan to ramp up the international counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, committing to sending 7,000 more troops to complement the 30,000 additional US forces that Mr. Obama announced Tuesday.

The 7,000 NATO forces announced at a meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers in Brussels Friday does not yet match the 10,000 additional international forces that the Obama administration is said to be seeking. That number, when joined with the new US forces set to begin arriving in January, would add up to the 40,000 additional troops that the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has called for.

But NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested at the meeting that the 7,000 forces from 25 countries was not the limit of what NATO countries would contribute, predicting there were "more to come."

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The NATO contribution topped a figure of 5,000 additional forces that Mr. Rasmussen had cited just before Obama's Tuesday evening speech. The higher number announced Friday appeared designed to underscore both alliance unity over the Afghanistan mission and support for Obama's strategy of weakening the Taliban while training more Afghan security forces.

"The strongest message in the room today was solidarity," Rasmussen said following the foreign ministers' meeting. "Nations are backing up their words with deeds."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised countries such as Britain and Italy that have already announced more troops, while reminding her colleagues that "this is our fight together, and we must finish it together."

Still, some NATO analysts say, the number of fresh NATO troops that countries have committed to may not reach the 7,000 figure. According to NATO officials, firm commitments amount to 5,500, with 1,500 more anticipated, based on Rasmussen's conversations with alliance countries in recent days.

Moreover, some of the "additional forces" are likely to be troops already in Afghanistan whose anticipated withdrawal will now be put off in deference to Obama's new strategy, some analysts say.

Several big question marks remain in terms of NATO countries that have not yet pledged additional forces but may still do so.

Both Germany and France say they will await the outcome of an international conference on Afghanistan slated for London next January before making a decision. If they do send troops, they would probably be additional trainers for the effort to accelerate the expansion of the Afghan Army and police forces.

Eyes have also fallen on Turkey, which is NATO's only Muslim member. It has sent mixed signals recently over its willingness to add to the 1,750 troops it already has in Afghanistan performing strictly noncombat duties. Turkish officials have suggested since Obama's speech that Turkey is reviewing its commitment and may indeed send more soldiers – but only for training and civilian-development duties.

Yet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan set to meet with Obama at the White House on Monday, Turkey is likely to come under more pressure to announce a significant contribution to NATO's Afghanistan forces.

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