Having just upped the ante in Afghanistan by 17,000 troops, the United States will look for greater commitments from its NATO partners this week, but isn’t expecting much of a response.
“I think the likelihood of getting the allies to commit significant numbers of additional troops is not very great,’ U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on his way to Krakow, Poland. “To give credit where credit is due, the allies have increased the number of non-U.S. troops by about 15,000 over the last year or so.” “The question is whether additional commitments beyond that can be made, and I think there will be some, but I don’t think they will be big numbers,” he added. Allied defense ministers are holding informal meetings Thursday and Friday in Krakow ahead of the coming NATO summit in April. The notion of sending more combat troops to Afghanistan is unsavory to many allies, especially in the aftermath of an unpopular war in Iraq. It’s a reality Gates recognizes. “There is a lot of talk about a comprehensive approach in Afghanistan,” Gates said. “There needs to be a civilian strengthening on the civilian side as we are strengthening on the military side. And frankly … I hope that it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases, especially for the longer term.”
Obama: Troops alone cannot win Afghanistan
Allies could help with police training, counternarcotics, governance and corruption, Gates suggested. The defense secretary would also like at least a temporary surge in coalition forces ahead of planned August elections. The extra U.S. forces are expected to be operational ahead of those elections, Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Wednesday. About 38,000 U.S. troops are currently serving in Afghanistan. That number will increase to 55,000 once additional forces are deployed. Coalition forces from 41 other mostly NATO countries total about 31,500. The Obama administration has been conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region. The president and the Pentagon have been considering a request from McKiernan to send as many as 30,000 additional troops. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama said Tuesday of the 17,000 extra forces committed to Afghanistan.