- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (AP) - NATO’s European leaders pledged a significant increase in troops for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan at their 60th anniversary summit Saturday, but the alliance seemed sure to arouse hostility in the Muslim world by choosing the controversial Danish prime minister as the alliance’s new secretary general.

NATO leaders also launched work on a new strategic concept for the alliance in the future, and said they would seek to overcome differences with Russia.

While the allies tried to project harmony, violent protests marred the event as black-clad protesters attacked police and set a customs station ablaze at a bridge used as the backdrop for a walk by NATO leaders from Germany across the Rhine river to France.

All 28 NATO leaders unanimously approved Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the new civilian leader of the alliance. Turkey was strongly opposed to Fogh Rasmussen. He had infuriated many Muslims by defending freedom of speech during an uproar over a Danish newspaper’s publication of the cartoons in 2005. He has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union.

“Every head of state and government is fully convinced the Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the best choice for NATO,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, the alliance’s outgoing secretary general.

“A solution has been found also for the concerns expressed by Turkey, and we are unanimous in this,” he said.

The day started when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama and some two dozen other NATO leaders met French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the halfway point on the Europe bridge in a symbolic departure from the enmity that once tore apart Europe.

As leaders met behind closed doors, protesters tossed rocks at police, set the customs station ablaze, smashed the windows of trucks using TV equipment used in the ceremonies and stormed a nearby budget hotel, setting fires and pilfering alcohol from its bar.

Amid public antipathy to an expansion of Europe’s role in Afghanistan, European leaders remain deeply skeptical about whether more troops can stabilize a country devastated by decades of war.

NATO’s ability to succeed there is seen as a crucial test of the power and relevance of the alliance founded to counterbalance the Soviet Union but now struggling against a rising insurgency far beyond its borders.

Sarkozy and Merkel again stressed their support for the new strategy on Afghanistan that Obama was formally unveiling at the summit.

“We cannot afford to lose,” Sarkozy said in opening remarks, “because there (Afghanistan), some of the freedom of the world is at stake.” Merkel, the summit co-host, said that Afghanistan was a “test” case for the alliance.

In that light, de Hoop Scheffer said the summit had decided to set up a NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan. The alliance had also decided to provide monitoring and liaison teams that would work with Afghanistan’s fledgeling security forces, and would set up a trust fund to sustain the Afghan National Army.

Good will toward Obama, who worked the room patting leaders he had just met on the back, was in ample evidence.

“We trust him,” Sarkozy said. “We were expecting and waiting for the words we heard.”

However, both Merkel and Sarkozy stressed the need for Afghanistan’s government and security forces to shoulder an increasing share of the burden. They gave no sign they were prepared to send more troops. Both countries believe civilian aid and training for police are what is needed to stabilize Afghanistan.

“What we need to do is to understand Afghanistan is a text case for all of us,” Merkel said. “We need to promote Afghanization.”

At the summit’s opening on Friday, Obama promised to repair damaged relations with Europe and asked for support of his new strategy, which has him adding 21,000 U.S. troops to the force of 38,000 struggling against Taliban advances alongside a like number of European, Canadian and non-NATO forces

Defense Secretary John Hutton told BBC radio in an interview broadcast Saturday that it was “very possible” that extra European contributions to the Afghan mission would be agreed, and that a further expansion of the U.K. military presence remained possible.

Spain said ahead of the summit that it would add a small contingent to help train Afghan army officers. Belgium said it will add some 65 soldiers to a force of 500 and send two more F-16 jet fighters, bringing the total number it has sent to six.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Obama said Saturday that the administration expects that pledges and commitments from other NATO nations would come in over the next several weeks.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions had been announced.

Obama and the allies endorsed a return to normal relations with Russia, nine months after Moscow invaded Georgia.

Obama took a moment to welcome Albania and Croatia to being alliance membership to 28. Obama said he looked forward to the day when Macedonia will join NATO. Macedonia’s accession to NATO has been blocked over a dispute the country has with Greece.

Obama also said that “the door to membership will remain open” for countries that meet NATO standards and can make a meaningful contribution to allied security. He did not specify whether future members could come from the former Soviet Union, which Russia opposes.

Nonetheless, the allies sought to mend bridges with Russia.

“There is a shared view in NATO that we must cooperate with Russia,” de Hoop Scheffer said. He said differences remained with Russia over Georgia, but the two sides had a common interest in cooperating in areas such as anti-piracy patrols.

“We think this relationship can deliver more than it has up to now,” he said.

And the alliance officially recognized France’s return to full participation on NATO’s military councils, after a 43-year absence.

Looking to the future, the leaders issued a declaration Saturday that formally launches the creation of a new “strategic concept” or road map to define NATO’s roles, missions and way of functioning.

It would be the first such revision of the alliance’s purpose and function since 1999.

___

Associated Press Writer Tom Raum contributed to this report.

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