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Obama Faces Reluctance From NATO Allies On More Troops For Afghanistan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) told his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, that France is "not waging war against Afghanistan."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) told his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, that France is "not waging war against Afghanistan."
U.S. officials say President Barack Obama will not press for concrete commitments on Afghanistan from NATO allies during NATO's summit April 3-4 in Strasbourg, France, and Baden Baden, Germany.

The announcement follows consultations between Obama and European leaders in which the U.S. president was told there would not immediate troop reinforcements by key European allies like France and Germany.

Outlining Obama's approach to European allies, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on April 3 that the summit is not a pledging conference on manpower or resources for the Afghan war effort.

Obama said in Strasbourg that what he does want is NATO support for the new strategy he unveiled last week on Afghanistan. Obama, who will formally present that strategy to other NATO leaders on April 4, says he also wants Europe to increase its own defense capabilities.

"We want strong allies. We would like to see Europe have much more robust defense capabilities. That's not something we discourage," Obama said. "We are not looking to be the patron of Europe. We are looking to be partners with Europe. And the more capable they are defensively, the more we can act in concert on the shared challenges that we face.

"And so one of my messages to our NATO allies is going to be that the more capability we see here in Europe, the happier the United States is going to be, [and] the more effective we will be in coordinating our activities."

France's Complete Support

The new Afghanistan strategy would broaden the focus of international counterinsurgency operations to include Pakistan. Arguing that military force alone cannot defeat terrorism in the region, Obama also has called for increased civilian operations and aid to help rebuild the economies of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

It's not just a matter of more resources. It's also a matter of more effectively using the resources we have. And on this, I think once again France and the United States are on the same page.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said during a joint press conference with Obama in Strasbourg on April 3 that France completely supports the new U.S. strategy and security efforts for Afghanistan's presidential election in August.

But Sarkozy says he already has told Obama that a decision was made by the French government last year against additional French reinforcements for Afghanistan.

"We are prepared to do more in terms of the police, the military police, the economy, in order to train Afghans and work for Afghanization," Sarkozy said. "We are not waging war against Afghanistan. We are helping Afghanistan rebuild. And we do not support any particular [presidential] candidate. We support the right of young Afghans to have a future."

Standing beside Sarkozy, Obama downplayed the significance of France's reluctance to send additional troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led ISAF mission.

"I think that France has already been a stalwart ally when it comes to Afghanistan. So we discussed the possibilities of all the NATO allies reengaging in a more effective mission in Afghanistan -- which is military, diplomatic, and deals with the development needs of both Pakistan and India," Obama said.

"So it's not just a matter of more resources. It's also a matter of more effectively using the resources we have. And on this, I think once again France and the United States are on the same page," he said.

Downplaying Expectations

Anatol Lieven, a professor at Kings College in London who specializes in international relations, says Obama had been downplaying his expectations ahead of the NATO summit because he was warned in advance by the Europeans that not much would be forthcoming.

"The question is, of course, whether he will then draw down his expectations as to what can be achieved in Afghanistan," Lieven says. "He has already done that to a very great extent. The language is so much more restrained and pragmatic than what we heard in the first years of the Afghan operation.

Lieven says he believes the Obama administration is anxious to reduce expectations -- "both of what can be got from the Europeans, and what can be achieved more generally."

Europeans aren't abandoning the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, Lieven stresses. Rather, he says, they are simply wary of expanding operations and commitments.

"The Europeans continue to support the mission in Afghanistan in principle. But there is very general unwillingness to provide any significant number of new troops, and doubts about providing more civilian helpers and more aid," Lieven says.

"That is partly because of the general economic situation. But it is also because of the deep mood of pessimism and disillusionment in European publics. The mood has become fairly general that this is a war that can't be won in Afghanistan. There is also some concern that intensifying the military operations in Afghanistan may radically destabilize Pakistan," he says.

Marcus Hoppe, a lecturer on international relations at the University of Hannover in Germany, says Germany also is unwilling to expand its role in Afghanistan to include combat missions in the volatile south.

"According to German politicians and the German government, we are actually putting in quite an effort in concerning our intervention in Afghanistan. And I don't think there is an awful lot of willingness to enhance the effort even more," Hoppe says. "I don't think we want to get engaged within the south because this would mean far more active fighting. Due to our history, and for various reasons, we are not at ease about the fighting issue and combating terrorism in a more military way."

Clinton said Washington has decided to give U.S. allies time to "take a hard look at what they believe is their highest and best contribution" for Afghanistan.

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