The new head of NATO is set to argue today that the multilateral force is not running from the fight in Afghanistan. In his first major US speech as NATO's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be addressing US doubts over alliance efforts in the South Asian nation as it reels from weekend attacks and the White House weighs critical next steps in the eight-year war.
A car bomb targeting the Afghan energy minister Sunday left him alive but killed four civilians. The NATO-led force reported the same day that three soldiers, including two Americans, had also been killed in separate insurgent attacks.
Similar incidents occur almost daily and have drained American and European support for the war. But Mr. Rasmussen is determined to emphasize the positive in his speech at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington this afternoon. He'll aim to ramp up support and halt criticism that US allies are not doing their share, according to Reuters:
[Rasmussen], in prepared remarks seen by Reuters, will acknowledge the need for more resources to battle the Taliban in the face of mounting Western casualties and fading public support for the war ...
"Talking down the European and Canadian contributions – as some here in the US do, on occasion – can become a self-fulfilling prophesy."
In the speech, he points to 9,000 additional non-US troops who have joined the Afghan effort in the past 18 months, saying "the allies are not running from the fight, despite the conventional wisdom."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Sunday that a deadline for the US mission in Afghanistan, as some Democrats are seeking, would be fatal to efforts there, according to the Associated Press. Those remarks came a week after the Washington Post revealed that the head American ground commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, believes a troop surge is necessary to prevent "failure."
Both of those assessments underscored the political minefield faced by President Obama as he decides America's next steps in the war, a decision which "could define, even destroy, his presidency", according to the London-based Times newspaper. Former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said Sunday he can "sympathize with" the president's current predicament with Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama seems to be waiting on the outcome of the contested Afghan presidential election to make a decision; a runoff could be held if a United Nations monitoring group declares a large number of ballots invalid. But the administration has already decided to back incumbent Hamid Karzai, the Washington Post reported.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other NATO foreign ministers, meeting Friday in New York with their Afghan counterpart, reached "consensus" that Karzai would probably "continue to be president," whether through a runoff or as the legitimate winner of more than 50 percent of votes cast in disputed Aug. 20 elections, an Obama administration official said.
What Karzai has called "reconciliation" with insurgents who agree to lay down their arms is emerging as a major factor in administration deliberations about a way forward in Afghanistan, officials said. Along with plans to increase the size of the Afghan security forces, the US military is developing programs to offer monetary and other inducements to insurgents it thinks are only loosely tied to the Taliban and other militant groups.