Rice Tries to Convince Europe on Afghanistan
With criticism of the war in Afghanistan increasing on both sides of the Atlantic, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that European governments needed to convince their people that sending troops to Afghanistan — and keeping them there — should remain a priority for NATO.
“I do think the alliance is facing a test here,” Ms. Rice said in a visit to London. “Populations have to understand that this is not just a peacekeeping fight.”
Her comments came before she and the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, left for an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, where they intend to meet with President Hamid Karzai to discuss the deteriorating situation in his country. They arrived in Kabul Thursday morning.
Underscoring the challenge for the United States, which wants Europe to increase its troop strength in Afghanistan significantly, Germany announced Wednesday that it would send only enough additional troops to replace a Norwegian contingent of about 250.
The German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, rejected a sharply worded letter last week from his United States counterpart, Robert M. Gates, asking that Germany send soldiers and helicopters to southern Afghanistan, where the heaviest fighting has taken place. Instead, Mr. Jung said Wednesday that Germany would deploy a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan to replace the Norwegians.
“An expansion into the south is out of the question,” Reinhold Robbe, the armed forces commissioner for the lower house of Parliament, said on television.
In Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Gates said he planned to raise his concerns about insufficient support from some NATO allies in a speech in Germany this weekend, and Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the international military mission there was “under-resourced.”
As the Taliban insurgency has gathered steam, Bush administration officials have been trying to prod reluctant European allies to bolster the United States contingent of about 26,000. Mr. Gates in recent days signed a temporary deployment order for 3,200 more marines in Afghanistan.
The entire international force totals about 40,000 troops.
Germany is perhaps under the greatest pressure to increase its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s force in Afghanistan. It has roughly 3,200 troops there, making it the third largest contributor, after the United States and Britain.
Some of that pressure has come from Canada, whose 2,500 troops in Afghanistan have suffered heavy losses, including 78 deaths. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will withdraw his force on schedule next year unless NATO adds 1,000 troops.
His government said Wednesday that if NATO agreed to add the troops, it would introduce a motion in the Canadian Parliament to prolong the Canadian mission for one more year beyond February 2009.
Referring to American pressure on Germany, Peter Schmidt, a security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said, “Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany.” He added: “The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the president tells us, ‘Look I’ll never get that through Congress.’ Something similar is happening here.”
Mr. Gates, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had not received any responses yet to the letters he sent recently to the defense ministers of Germany and other NATO countries suggesting greater military commitments.
“I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security, and others who are not,” Mr. Gates said. “There are allies that are doing their part and are doing well,” he added, citing the Canadians, British, Australians, Dutch and Danes.
General McNeill, speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, said that if official American military counterinsurgency doctrine were applied, more than 400,000 allied and Afghan troops would be required in Afghanistan.
Commenting on the level of involvement among NATO nations, General McNeill said, “It is probably an incontrovertible truth that if you pull a huge alliance together, that the going-in position of different nationalities of that alliance, or at least their military forces, is somewhat different.”
Bush administration officials have been on the defensive about Afghanistan since a critical report was released last week by an independent commission whose co-chairman was Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander. The report concluded, “The U.S. and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy.”
A United Nations report this week said that opium production, which officials believe has helped to finance the Taliban and Al Qaeda, had increased.
Appearing with Ms. Rice in London before reporters, Mr. Miliband, the foreign secretary, signaled the growing frustration felt in Europe over the Afghan government’s inability to confront the Taliban or to halt opium production. He stressed the need for a “joint effort” of NATO and the Afghan government and said Britain had no plans to send additional troops. “We’re not there to create a colony,” he said.
Helene Cooper reported from Kabul and London, and Nicholas Kulish from Berlin. Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.