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Obama's speech on Afghanistan war: Will Europe send more troops?

President Obama's speech on Afghanistan at West Point Tuesday is expected to appeal to Europe to match his troop surge. Will Europeans provide 10,000 soldiers?

By Correspondent, Staff writer / December 1, 2009

In this Thursday, Nov. 19 photo, Afghan and French soldiers join Afghan elders for a shura, or consultation, on the shore of Naghlu lake, in Afghanistan's Tagab Valley.

Jerome Delay/AP



President Obama's speech from West Point Tuesday night will be about more than convincing the American people that his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan is in the national interest. He needs to convince allies to send 10,000 more troops of their own, a prospect that looks uncertain at the moment.

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On Monday, Mr. Obama made calls to key leaders, particularly in Europe, explaining his plan. In his speech, Obama is also expected to reach out to military allies with an argument that Europe will be safer if it follows the US's lead with a troop surge of its own. Obama needs the Europeans because he is giving Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the operations commander for the Afghanistan war, 10,000 fewer troops than he requested. His advisers hope the shortfall will come from Europe.

But getting more European troops for Afghanistan is proving to be something like getting blood from a stone, as Obama learned on Monday when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country has the second-largest contingent of foreign forces in Afghanistan, approved 500 additional troops for the war after weeks of hand-wringing. Britain currently has 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan.

France's Defense Minister Herve Morin bluntly ruled out adding to his country's 3,400 troops on Monday, saying France "has made an extremely big effort and that there is no question for now of raising numbers."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose force of 4,500 troops is the third largest in Afghanistan, said Monday she'll consider sending more troops only after an international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for London on Jan. 28.

But even if convinced then, her ability to deliver may be constrained by domestic politics, as she faces mounting opposition to the war at home, particularly since a German airstrike near Kunduz in early December killed 142 people, many of them civilians. The German defense minister at the time, Franz Josef Jung, has since resigned from her government, as has the deputy defense minister and the Army chief of staff.

Politics aside, the European allies don't have the same scope as the United States to expand operations. The combined defense budgets of Britain, Germany, and France is worth about a quarter of the US's.

Malcolm Chalmers, a former British Foreign Office policy adviser who is now an expert in defense and security policy at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London think tank, says that with a total commitment of 10,000 troops now, Britain has probably maxed out.