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Cash-Strapped Europe Slow To Commit In Afghanistan

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Cash-Strapped Europe Slow To Commit In Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Cash-Strapped Europe Slow To Commit In Afghanistan

Cash-Strapped Europe Slow To Commit In Afghanistan

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The U.S. urged NATO allies and other nations during the Chicago summit to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan once combat forces withdraw in 2014. But many of the European member nations are reeling from the grinding debt crisis, making it hard to justify development and training programs in Afghanistan.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This NATO summit comes as European allies struggle with a deepening debt crisis at home. As we just heard, the U.S. has begun pressing its partners for a long term commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014. But NPR's Jackie Northam reports it's a hard sell at the moment, asking European leaders to spend precious funds overseas.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: There was a lot of smiling and handshakes and warm regards when NATO members gathered here. But this two-day summit came at a critical juncture for the alliance. It's trying to redefine its overall mission and its long term role in Afghanistan at a time when cash is tight. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged the dilemma for many members of the alliance at the start of the summit.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Today, we will focus on security in an age of austerity. We will ensure that the alliance has the capabilities to deal with the security challenges of the future, even as we tackle the economic challenges of the present.

NORTHAM: In fact, the word austerity is being used repeatedly by leaders gathered in Chicago. The tough economic situation in the U.S. and across Europe clouds many of the issues being discussed, especially Afghanistan. The U.S. traditionally picks up the lion's share of NATO's defense costs and will continue to do so in Afghanistan long after combat troops have left the country. But the Obama administration wants helps training Afghanistan security forces, which will cost about $4 billion a year.

The U.S. is looking to Europe to pitch in about a third of that. Administration officials says that's difficult for European leaders who either lack the political will to contribute more or simply can't because of the crushing debt crisis. Still, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says some European partners are stepping up to the plate.

BEN RHODES: The Germans, who are obviously at the center of the issue in the eurozone, recently made a commitment of 150 million euro, so nearly $200 million to the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces. We've seen similar commitments from other European countries. The United Kingdom made a significant commitment. So even in the context of that financial crisis in Europe, those countries have stepped forward in a particular way.

NORTHAM: But Germany and the U.K. are relatively better off than many of their European neighbors. Rhodes wouldn't be pushed on what other nations have contributed or how much. But American officials say the U.S. is still short of the amount needed, anywhere from three to $500 million. Mark Jacobson, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, says the U.S. is looking elsewhere for help.

MARK JACOBSON: We're also seeing commitments from outside of NATO. The Australians, for example, have made a significant commitment and the Japanese continue to provide significant funding for the security forces.

NORTHAM: The dire economic situation is now propelling NATO to rethink how it does business. That means enhancing partnerships with non-NATO states to help pay for missions in Afghanistan or when other conflicts arise. The alliance is also developing more efficient military capabilities and trying to reduce redundancies. Secretary General Rasmussen says it's important that all NATO members continue to contribute.

RASMUSSEN: We are in the process of modernizing and streamlining. So, yes, a strong commitment to continue financing an alliance, which is actually the best value for money you can imagine, NATO in itself is smart defense because it is about helping each other.

NORTHAM: But that may be easier said than done for European nations struggling with the debt crisis. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Chicago.

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