Europe Ignores Obama's Demands for More Troops in Afghanistan
LONDON - Washington had hoped to persuade European allies to contribute more in the wake of the President Barack Obama's election and the announcement this week of the deployment of 17,00 extra American soldiers.
American defense secretary Robert Gates condemned their failure to do so far as "disappointing" with European states promising to deploy no more than just a few hundred extra troops.
Speaking before a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Polish city of Kraków, Mr Gates said member states must send reinforcements in preparation for the Afghan presidential elections in August.
However in a sign commanders had resigned themselves to receiving few extra combat troops, the NATO chief stressed the need for help in less controversial and safer police training missions.
Jaap de Hopp Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, refrained from calling for more combat troops, explaining that the organization should play a greater role in nation building.
He said: "NATO should give the Afghan authorities an army and police that allow them to take on their responsibilities. The sooner we can finish training the army and police, the sooner the Afghan authorities can take over running their own country."
A resigned Mr Gates conceded that this could be the best America could get from its allies."I guess it will make life easier for those member states that have problems about committing combat troops," he said.
Such a deal would allow European governments to say they are committed to the struggle in Afghanistan but without upsetting public opinion.
Washington has long been frustrated at Europe's lackluster response to repeated American calls for greater assistance.
With public opposition to the Afghan war hardening across Europe, and disquiet in many European capitals over a command structure in Afghanistan that keeps the vast bulk of the 55,000-strong American force separate from NATO, few expect any member to commit significant additional forces.
Poland, which has over 1,000 troops on combat operations in Afghanistan and been a vocal supporter of deployment, also lent its support.
John Hutton, the Defense Secretary, said the UK was considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, but insisted Britain was "playing above our weight" and the onus was on European NATO members to increase their presence. Britain has 8,300 troops in Afghanistan, more than any other European country.
"Our view has always been very clear that Nato needs to do more, the European members of NATO need to do more," he said.
"There needs to be a fairer burden-sharing of responsibilities, particularly in those really hard areas where what we need are combat forces."
He also echoed growing US criticism of Hamid Karzai's government, demanding "change and improvement in Kabul".
"There's no doubt at all that the government in Kabul needs to do more," Mr Hutton said.
"It needs to tackle the problem about corruption, it needs to deal with the problem about drugs which is a poison in Afghan society and making it very difficult for good governance to take hold across the country."
The summit got under way as the Kyrgyzstan parliament voted to close the last remaining US airbase in central Asia.
Some 15,000 American troops and 500 tons of supplies pass through the Manas base each month on the way to and from Afghanistan.
But officials in Kyrgyzstan backed a presidential decree which means the Americans will have to leave within 180 days - after which Russia will take over. Russia recently agreed to give the government more than $2bn (£1.4bn) in aid and loans.
Mr Gates said America would consider paying more rent to continue using a strategic airbase in Kyrgyzstan which is key to its operations.