- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 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 most of them appeared headed for noncombat 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 the pledges were “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 said the White House expects 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, who came to France on Friday, recently announced plans to increase the U.S. troop commitment by 21,000, up to almost 60,000

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

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

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

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

Mr. Obama said 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.

More than 10 other nations also committed to send between 1,400 and 2,000 troops with a specific training mission.

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

The French also promised 300 to 400 paramilitary troops 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.

U.S. allies said they would give $100 million to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund to expand 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 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 upfront 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 an inquiry about future commitments “a difficult question,” and “something which the future will tell.”

Mr. Obama also condemned a new law in Afghanistan that women’s rights advocates say would allow men to rape their wives, but stopped short of saying 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, asking 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 to allow caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in 2005.

National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones told reporters that Mr. Obama personally brokered the agreement, holding talks with Mr. Rasmussen and Turkish President Abdullah Gul on 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 more than 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 end the global recession in London and to secure more troops to fight al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

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

The last stop on his Europeantrip is in Turkey on Monday and Tuesday.

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