By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Some two dozen countries will send an estimated 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year, the chief of NATO said Friday as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told her allied counterparts that an infusion of forces is crucial to turning the tide in the long war.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark told reporters at NATO headquarters that at least 25 nations would provide the additional forces in Afghanistan in 2010, "with more to come." And he said the 44 countries now involved are "absolutely united" in their commitment to seeing the eight-year war through to a successful outcome.
"The strongest message in the room today was solidarity," he said. "Nations are backing up their words with deeds."
US Navy Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO and US commander in Europe, said in an Associated Press interview during a break in the talks that he believes several thousand non-US troops may be contributed next year, in addition to the 7,000 cited by Fogh Rasmussen.
"What we are all underlining to potential troop contributors is that we are truly asking for emphasis in the training area," Stavridis said. "And what I'm hearing is that we'll get very good responses."
Clinton told allied foreign ministers that it was essential that contributions to the war effort be provided as quickly as possible. She thanked Italy and Britain for their announcements of new troop contributions and said non-military assistance is equally important.
"The need for additional forces is urgent, but their presence will not be indefinite," she told the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest political council.
She cited President Barack Obama's pledge on Tuesday to begin withdrawing US forces in July 2011.
"At that time, we will begin to transfer authority and responsibility to Afghan security forces removing combat forces from Afghanistan over time with the assurance that Afghanistan's future, and ours, is secure," Clinton said, according to a copy of her prepared remarks to the closed-door meeting.
"The pace, size, and scope of the drawdown will be predicated on the situation on the ground. If things are going well, a larger number of forces could be removed from more areas. If not, the size and speed of the drawdown will be adjusted accordingly."
In his remarks to reporters, Fogh Rasmussen made a similar point.
"Transition (to Afghan control) does not mean exit," he said.
Clinton acknowledged the sacrifice, in blood and treasure, that many allied countries have paid in Afghanistan over the past eight years.
"Today, our people are weary of war," she said. "But we cannot ignore reality. The extremists continue to target innocent people and sow destruction across continents. From the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they plot future attacks. As Secretary General Rasmussen said earlier this week, 'This is our fight, together.' And we must finish it together."
She thanked Italy for its announcement that it will send another 1,000 troops, and for Britain's pledge of another 500.
"I look forward to discussing further commitments with many of you today and in the coming days," she said. "Additional troops, enhanced support for the vital training mission, and added civilian assistance will help deny al-Qaida a safe haven, reverse the Taliban's momentum, and strengthen the capacity of the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security."
Clinton sought to strike a delicate balance between stiffening allied resolve for hard combat in Afghanistan while also promising that it will not last for decades.
"Even as we signal resolve through the deployment of additional forces and a long-term civilian commitment, we want to send a signal that our combat presence is not permanent, and to provide a sense of urgency to the Afghans to do for themselves what we know they're capable of doing," she said.
"But I want to stress that this timeframe does not mean that we can or will end our commitment to Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the region. Our political, economic, and diplomatic presence in the region will endure. I know that this has not always been the case in the past, but we intend the future to be different than the past."
The central theme of her remarks was a need for unity of purpose.
"We are in this together. And only together can we succeed," she said.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, also attended the meeting of NATO's main political council to explain the 43-nation military mission, which he has sought to revise and reinforce since he took over command last June. He has described conditions in the fight against Taliban extremists as serious and deteriorating.
McChrystal was headed to Washington afterward to prepare for congressional testimony next week - his first since assuming command in Kabul last June.
Allied governments need to be able to sell their publics on the idea of enlarging the war, and particularly those countries in which political parties share power have to be sure "the political stars are in alignment" before they announce new commitments, Clinton told reporters before she arrived in Brussels.
The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, sketched out the threat to Europe posed by Afghanistan's instability.
"We all know that in the 1990s, Afghanistan was the incubator of international terrorism, the incubator of choice for global jihad," he said. "The badlands of the Afghan-Pakistan border are a threat to people everywhere, whatever their religion, and that's why it's very important that we make progress."
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