- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

Washington’s NATO and other allies will send at least 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, but it may take President Obama months to reach his goal of up to 7,000 new allied forces, U.S. and European officials said Wednesday.

Conspicuously absent from recent pledges have been Germany and France, whose governments’ domestic political challenges complicate any war decisions. Still, diplomats said, both countries could boost their military presence after an international conference on Afghanistan in London in late January.

“In 2010, the non-U.S. members of this mission will send at least 5,000 more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand more,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels. “This is not just America’s war. What is happening in Afghanistan poses a clear and present danger to the citizens of all our countries.”

Mr. Rasmussen was not specific, but in the past month, nine countries - only four of them NATO members - have pledged a total of up to 4,000 more troops. The largest pledges came from Britain, Poland, South Korea and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

It was not clear from where the difference of more than 1,000 troops would come, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a Senate hearing that he had received “private commitments” of 1,800 to 2,000 troops this week.

Mr. Gates, who said the Obama administration hopes for up to 7,000 troops from allies, refused to name the countries in question, saying they have “very delicate coalition governments” and will make public announcements when they deem appropriate.

“The will is there, but the political capacity to deliver has been a challenge,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our hope is that what the president has decided will change the political dynamic.”

The secretary said the administration’s goal is to have about 150,000 U.S. and foreign troops and about 200,000 Afghan forces in Afghanistan for its strategy to work. The Afghan army currently has fewer than 100,000 members. The United States has about 68,000 troops and will add 30,000 more, with allies making up the difference.

European officials said the silence from Berlin and Paris, both of which welcomed Mr. Obama’s announcement Tuesday, should not be viewed as the final word from the two capitals.

“No one has said ‘no’ just yet,” one British official said. “It may be weeks, even months, until we know what the final tally will look like.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she plans to discuss further military contributions with NATO allies when she meets Friday with fellow foreign ministers at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

“There will be a number of announcements over the next days and weeks,” Mrs. Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Diplomats said Mr. Obama’s intention to begin withdrawing some forces in July 2011 could help other governments commit more troops, because they can go to their publics with a specific deadline - even if their own soldiers do not return home at the beginning of the pullout.

“It is absolutely crucial for our strategy that the Afghans start to take control of security as soon as possible,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons in London.

Mr. Brown pledged 500 more troops last month and decided to keep in place another 700 who went to Afghanistan to provide security for the country’s presidential election in August and had been scheduled to leave after the vote. Those 1,200 will bring Britain’s total to 9,500, the British official said.

In the past week, Poland has announced that it will send 600 more troops on top of its current 2,000. Georgia has offered up to 1,000; Albania, 85; and Macedonia, 80. In the past month, South Korea has pledged up to 500; Slovakia, 250; Spain, 250; and Montenegro, 40.

In Paris on Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Mr. Obama’s speech as “courageous, determined and lucid.” His spokesman, Luc Chatel, said Mr. Sarkozy wanted to “give himself some time” to decide on more troop contributions.

France, which has about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, will consider “further adjustments” if necessary, said Emmanuel Lenain, a spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington.

“France is a responsible country and intends to assume its responsibilities,” Henri Guaino, a special adviser to Mr. Sarkozy, told Radio France-Inter. “It doesn’t make sense to say ‘no, no, no’ to everything straightaway.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi did not announce new commitments, either, but said his country “will do its part to support the United States military strategy in Afghanistan.” Italy has more than 3,000 troops there.

“I spoke about it with President Obama last week and so we share the same strategy announced last night,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

Two NATO countries, Canada and the Netherlands, have said they would pull out a total of nearly 5,000 troops from Afghanistan in the next two years. It was not clear whether they are reconsidering their decisions.