BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – More than 20 countries plan to send more troops to Afghanistan following U.S. President Barack Obama’s increased commitment to the war, NATO said on Thursday, but the overall number falls short of U.S. expectations.
As NATO foreign ministers gathered to discuss their response to Obama, the alliance also said it still needed over 200 more police and military training teams to boost Afghan forces so they can eventually take responsibility for security.
On Wednesday, Obama announced he would send 30,000 more U.S. troops to join the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency, and Washington wants up to 7,000 more troops from allies.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expected U.S. allies to provide at least 5,000 extra troops and probably a few thousand more — still short of the 10,000 troops and trainers Pentagon officials are seeking.
“There are well over 20 countries that are indicating or have already indicated that they intend to increase their troop numbers in Afghanistan,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said. “Based on what we have heard in the last 24 hours … we are beyond the 5,000 figure,” he told a briefing. However, he said there were “significant shortfalls” of army and police trainers. “Trainers are not that easy to find and the secretary-general will continue to push very hard to find not only the trainers but equipment and money,” he said.
Major-General Eric Tremblay, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told the same briefing ISAF was short of 41 military training teams and 174 police training teams — essential for Afghanistan’s future.
Such teams each have between 25 and 40 personnel. Even if the target figure was reached, it would only be sufficient to train Afghan forces to an interim strength, not to a level sufficient to take over security from foreign troops.
European leaders have welcomed Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, but many have been in less of a hurry to commit new forces to an uncertain, 8-year military campaign that is increasingly unpopular at home because of rising casualties.
NATO officials have cautioned that about 1,500 of the 5,000 troops would be election reinforcements sent in earlier this year. And the Netherlands and Canada plan to withdraw combat forces of 2,100 and 2,800 in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Italy said on Thursday it would send up to 1,000 more troops, and Britain, which has the second largest contingent, plans to boost its troops by 500 to 10,000.
Among others that have announced plans to send more troops are Georgia (900), Poland (600) and Slovakia (250), and Portugal (150). Albania has said it will send its first 35 combat troops, as well as 50 trainers to join 250 already in Afghanistan.
The response from elsewhere though has been cautious.
Germany has signalled a willingness to do more police training but said it could not commit more troops before a strategy review early next year.
France said on Monday it did not plan to send more troops but President Nicolas Sarkozy responded to Obama’s speech by saying it would look at helping to train Afghan forces.
Sarkozy said he would review his position after the NATO meeting and a U.N.-sponsored conference in London on Jan. 28.
Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said Budapest would consider the U.S. request for more troops, but a decision was not likely immediately.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he hoped for continued Dutch support. A NATO diplomat said it was hoped the Dutch and Canadians could be persuaded to keep troops, perhaps as trainers for Afghan forces.