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NATO Says Allies, Partners Pledge 7,000 Extra Troops For Afghanistan


NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "It will not be a run for the exit."
BRUSSELS (RFE/RL) -- NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "at least 25" U.S. allies have by now pledged 7,000 extra troops for Afghanistan for 2010, alongside the 30,000 promised by U.S. President Barack Obama this week.

Rasmussen made the remarks after a meeting of the 28 NATO countries with Afghanistan and 15 non-NATO partner nations today.

"What I can say is that in addition to the clear pledges already tabled, we have heard indications -- or more than indications -- that other allies and partners will be, and probably will be, in a position to announce further contributions during the coming weeks and months," Rasmussen said.

Britain has pledged 500 extra troops, and reports say Poland will send another 600, and Georgia 900. There is also talk of smaller contingents possibly emanating from other countries -- but all of it remains unofficial at least until a "force generation" meeting of NATO chiefs of staff in Mons, Belgium, on December 7.

Rasmussen was also unable to say today how many of the new troops would be contributed by NATO's own member states -- a key issue when it comes to U.S. perceptions of the usefulness of the alliance.

'Utmost Importance'

Rasmussen said he had been able to extract a commitment from the Netherlands to reverse its plans to withdraw some 1,400 soldiers from the southern province of Uruzgan in 2010. The NATO chief did say it is of "utmost importance" that the Dutch remain in Afghanistan. Canada has indicated it will delay its pullout from Kandahar until 2011.

It will be a well-coordinated and well-prepared transition to lead Afghan responsibility in provinces, in districts, where conditions so permit.
It is also not clear how many of the extra troops pledged by allies are intended for combat and how many will take on training duties. Both appear to be included in the 7,000 headline figure announced by Rasmussen today -- as are some 1,500 soldiers who arrived to secure last August's elections but whose tours of duty will be extended.

NATO's schedule envisages some 4,000 newly trained Afghan Army and police recruits being made available every month. Currently, the combined strength of the army and police stands at some 200,000 men. NATO officials have said they want to boost this figure to 400,000.

Rasmussen today also sought to dispel the impression that Obama's July 2011 start date for a U.S. pullout means the beginning of an end for the international presence in Afghanistan.

'Well-Prepared Transition'

Rasmussen said there would be no international pullout before Afghan security forces are able to fill the void.

"It will not be a run for the exit," Rasmussen said. "It will be a well-coordinated and well-prepared transition to lead Afghan responsibility in provinces, in districts, where conditions so permit."

However, in what was to be one of a number of ambiguities in the NATO chief's take on Obama's plans for Afghanistan, he failed to set out any clear criteria for measuring the prowess of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). He also did not offer details on how he expects ANSF to boost its numbers sufficiently in 18 months remaining until the pullout date set by the U.S. president.

NATO's transition strategy is getting off to a shaky start, with Western commanders saying that even Afghanistan's relatively stable north suffers from an acute lack of police officers -- exposed by the intensifying Taliban encroachment in the region.

The Afghan National Army, on the other hand, is suffering from an increasing ethnic imbalance. Its ranks have been swelled by Tajiks, whose historic rivalry with the Pashtuns leaves them ill-placed to keep the peace in Afghanistan's turbulent southern and eastern parts.

Rasmussen also called for a new Afghan policy to induce the Taliban to lay down their arms. The Afghan government's resolve will be tested at an international summit in London on January 28. Kabul's success -- or lack thereof -- in persuading its Western allies of its ability to succeed in meeting their demands could in turn decisively affect non-U.S. NATO troop contributions, officials in Brussels concede.