As widely foreshadowed, the United States used the occasion of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Warsaw to call on its European allies to contribute more troops and resources to the Afghanistan mission and, to the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention, they refused.
David Brunnstrom and David Morgan for Reuters:
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would not seek a specific number of additional NATO troops from a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Polish city of Krakow. But he said Washington would like to see a short-term deployment of troops to Afghanistan from the alliance’s rapid response force, the NRF, which has never been utilized. “The message is that it is a new administration and (it) is prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan. But there clearly will be expectations that the allies must do more as well,” Gates told reporters.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized 17,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan this week, taking the U.S. contingent to around 55,000, in addition to the 30,000 from 40 other mostly NATO countries already operating in Afghanistan.
Some European allies have announced plans to send more troops, but these numbered in the hundreds, not thousands, and Germany said the NRF should not be used for Afghan duty. “The NRF should not be used as a reserve,” German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters in Krakow. “The NRF has fundamentally different tasks.”
U.S. officials have long been frustrated by European reluctance to make new long-term troop commitments to the Afghan mission and Gates said it was unlikely that large increases would be forthcoming anytime soon. But Gates said the Obama administration hoped NATO countries where the Afghan mission is politically unpopular could make significant new contributions to civilian development. “We really need additional help on the civilian side … frankly I hope it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases especially for the longer term.” Gates said more help was needed on governance and development, police training and funding of the Afghan army.
There was some good news coming out of the summit, CBC News reports.
Gates signed a new military co-operation agreement with Poland Thursday, formalizing ties between the special forces operations of both countries. He praised Poland’s willingness to send troops into harm’s way, including about 1,600 in Afghanistan.
“As an old cold warrior it is a true honour to be able to sign this document on behalf of the United States,” Gates told Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich.
We shall see if Gates makes any headway in getting non-manpower support from the major European powers but I wouldn’t recommend betting on it. Help was unlikely to be forthcoming, anyway, and the collapse of the financial system and global recession make it almost unfathomable.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.