NATO allies respond to Obama troop surge in Afghanistan

08:27, December 04, 2009      

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NATO allies and other nations have responded to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan by increasing their own contribution by at least 5,000 extra soldiers, the alliance's spokesman said on Thursday.

"Based on what we have heard in just the last 24 hours, I think we can confidently say that we will surpass that amount, we are beyond the 5,000 figure," said spokesman James Appathurai.

He spoke to journalists as NATO foreign ministers were gathering to discuss Obama's call for at least 5,000 troops to join the U.S. reinforcements headed to Afghanistan next year.

The U.S. troop surge is part of a revised strategy focusing on counter-insurgency that aims to stem the rising tide of Taliban attacks and win over the Afghan population with a combination of increased security, development projects and training to build up effective and reliable Afghan security forces.

NATO is expected to announce more details of allied troop increases at the ministerial meeting on Friday, but several nations have already indicated they will add to their contingents.

Italy said it will add about 1,000 troops, increasing its contribution by almost one-third. Britain is sending a further 500,taking its total to almost 10,000; Poland is expected to deploy 600 more; Slovakia 25, Portugal 150, and non-NATO member Georgia 900.

Others have been more cautious. French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France will not be adding to its 3,300, but it is open to sending more training teams for the Afghan police.

Sarkozy has suggested he could review France's position after a UN conference on Afghanistan in London next month.

Germany is debating an extension of the mandate of 4,400 but is unlikely to add to that number.

In all, Appathurai said, "well over 20" nations had indicated they would increase the number of troops in the country, adding to the current 38,000 non-U.S. troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

The total size of the force has risen to 83,467, said Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, ISAF spokesman.

The United States also has around 20,000 troops in Afghanistan outside the NATO force and the Afghan National Army's current strength is at 134,000.

With the addition of the extra troops planned for next year, the Afghan government and international forces will reach almost 300,000 next year. They face Taliban and other insurgent forces which Tremblay estimated at no more than 30,000.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, the militants have stepped up the intensity of their attacks every year since 2004, seriously undermining confidence in the Afghan government and sapping public support for the military mission in many allied nations as casualty figures rise.

Many of the extra NATO troops are expected to focus on training Afghan security forces. U.S. and allied officials see the development of local forces able to impose security in the country as key to an eventual exit strategy from the country.

In his announcement of a revised Afghan strategy on Tuesday, Obama set a July 2011 target for the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. forces, although senior administration and NATO officials have since stressed that any withdrawal will be gradual and dependent on the security situation.

"Nobody is walking away from this," Appathurai said, saying there will be no pullout until Afghan forces are ready to take over.

Source: Xinhua
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