- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURG, France — President Obama left France on Saturday having received commitments from allies inside and outside the NATO alliance to add about 5,000 more military personnel to Afghanistan, though a large portion of the troops appeared headed for non-combat roles.

“What was pledged here today was significant,” Mr. Obama said after emerging from a day of meetings to talk with reporters, though he added that he considered the the pledges to be “a down payment on the future of our mission in Afghanistan.”

“We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he said.

A senior administration official also said that the White House expects there to be more announcements of troops and civilian resources from other countries in the near future.

“We believe that pledges and commitments will come in not just today but over the course of the next several weeks,” said the senior adviser, who spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be identified, so that he could speak more frankly.

Mr. Obama came to France on Friday having recently increased the U.S. troop commitment by 21,000 up to almost 60,000, almost double the size of the 32,000 non-U.S. troops.

The president issued strongly worded demands for Europe to follow the U.S. example and commit more resources — military and civilian — to the fight.

Great Britain, Germany and Spain complied, with Britain committing to add 900 more troops and Germany and Spain promising 600 each.

These soldiers, along with 900 more from other nations inside and outside NATO, make up a force of 3,000 that are headed to Afghanistan specifically to provide security for the country’s August elections.

They will not be offensive forces that go out on missions, but will rather play defensive roles in helping the Afghans secure polling places and other locations key to the election.

But Mr. Obama said that troops sent to Afghanistan to train police and soldiers “are no less important than those who are in the south in direct combat with the Taliban.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not know how long the election security forces would be in Afghanistan.

In addition to the 3,000 soldiers headed to Afghanistan for election security, more than 10 other nations committed to send between 1,400 to 2,000 troops with a specific training mission.

These forces will be teams of 20 to 40 paramilitaries, “not unlike a special forces unit embedded in the field,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The French also promised 300 to 400 paramilitaries to train Afghan police forces, and the Italians committed 100 police trainers, the White House said.

The 5,000 additional forces will raise non-U.S. troop levels to about 37,000 in Afghanistan.

And U.S. allies said they would give $100 million to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund, which is for expanding the army to 134,000 soldiers. Germany gave the biggest commitment, with $57 million.

“When it comes to Afghanistan this alliance and this summit have delivered,” said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Some foreign leaders said that outreach by the new U.S. president primed the pump for them to contribute.

“The new Obama administration had consulted extensively with its allies … If you want cooperation that is the way to do it,” said Belgian Ambassador to NATO Frans van Daele, whose country pledged to provide a training team and two combat helicopters.

As for future commitments, Mr. Obama said that having been up front on his plans with NATO allies, “we will have established a baseline of honesty and clarity of purpose so that it will be harder for each of us in NATO to try to avoid or shirk the serious responsibilities that are involved in accomplishing our mission.”

Mr. van Daele, in an interview, called the question of future commitments “a difficult question,” and “something which the future will tell.”

Mr. Obama also condemned a law currently under consideration in the Afghan legislature that women’s rights advocates say would allow men in that country to rape their wives, but stopped short of saying that he would condition future U.S. aid and troop contributions to Afghanistan on its withdrawal.

“This law is abhorrent,” he said. “We have stated very clearly that we object to this law but … our focus is to defeat al Qaeda and ensure they do not have safe havens.”

“It’s important that we make the point that the rights of men and women are equal,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, calling on the Afghans to withdraw the legislation and calling it “unacceptable.”

NATO also reached consensus Saturday on a new secretary general, with all 28 members approving Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for the job. Turkey had objected to him as recently as Friday night, based on his defense of free speech in the controversy over Danish cartoons in 2005.

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones told reporters that Mr. Obama personally brokered the agreement, holding talks with Mr. Rasmussen and Turkish President Abdullah Gul Saturday morning before the summit talks began.

“Our President really was instrumental in bringing about this common ground and finding this common ground,” Gen. Jones said

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama explained to the American people why he was spending over a week abroad while the country faces economic crisis.

“It is sometimes necessary for a President to travel abroad in order to protect and strengthen our nation here at home. That is what I have done this week,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly video and radio address, pointing to his efforts to help solve the global recession in London, and to secure more troops to fight al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama flew to the Czech Republic on Saturday afternoon. He will meet with government leaders there in Prague on Sunday and give a public speech about his intent to hinder the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

His last stop on this trip is in Turkey, on Monday and Tuesday.

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