Obama Pitches Afghan Plan To NATO Allies

Afghanistan is likely to dominate the agenda as world leaders gather for the NATO summit. The meeting marks President Obama's first chance to appeal directly to NATO allies for more help. He may not get much, because the war in Afghanistan is not popular in Europe.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. A summit meeting of the NATO alliance today offers a reminder of what happened after 9-11. The North Atlantic allies invoked a rule that an attack on one nation is considered an attack on them all. Seven-and-a-half years later, a new American president is expanding that war, and it's not clear how much support he can expect now from NATO allies. In a moment, we'll hear the view from the Netherlands, which is looking to withdraw its troops. First, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports on how the Afghanistan war is increasingly dominated by Americans.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Here's the new reality in Afghanistan. By the time new American forces arrive this spring and summer, the U.S. will have twice as many troops on the ground as all other NATO countries combined. Hundreds of fresh American civilian advisors are also headed to Afghanistan, and the U.S. is pouring in billions more in aid money.

Mr. JEREMY SHAPIRO (Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution): The result of all this is a creeping Americanization of this war.

KELLY: That's Jeremy Shapiro of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Authority will clearly follow resources. There is going to be, as American troops become more and more predominant in Afghanistan, a tremendous insistence from the Americans on unity of command.

KELLY: This view appears to be on the rise in Washington. In a packed ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel this week, Robert Kagan took the stage. Kagan is a prominent conservative writer, based at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kagan scanned the crowd and pronounced that his expectations for help from NATO allies in Afghanistan are pretty low, and that he suspects privately, the Obama administration's are, too.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Historian, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I think we're moving into a period of what I'm almost tempted to call the soft unilateralism of low expectations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAGAN: That's good. That's a pretty nice phrase. I kind of - which is to say it's not that we're not consulting with the allies. We go to the allies, we say: Could you please do this? They say well, really, no. We say okay, and we'll go do it ourselves.

KELLY: Sharing the stage with Kagan at the Mayflower sat Retired Army Officer John Nagl. Nagl, who's now president of the Center for a New American security, a Washington think tank, took exception to the jokes about NATO contributions. He reminded the crowd that some countries - the Netherlands, for example - have performed remarkably well. Britain and Australia are considering sending more troops, and Canadian forces, while they're scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2011, have so far suffered a higher casualty rate than American troops. John Nagl.

Lieutenant Colonel JOHN NAGL (US Army, Retired; President, Center for a New American Security): I do agree that increasingly, Americans are going to bear a higher percentage of the total weight, but the president is going to ask for more, and it's going to be very hard for our allies internationally to say no to this president.

KELLY: Okay. But what exactly will President Obama be asking allies for at this summit? The president's national security adviser, retired Marine General James Jones, said on this program this week that he is focused on the extra civilian aid Europeans might provide to Afghanistan.

General JAMES JONES (US Marines, Retired; National Security Adviser): More mentors to help them in economic planning, to help them in agricultural planning, more emphasis on judicial reform, more emphasis on developing more capacity for the Afghan army and the Afghan police so they can do more themselves.

KELLY: General Jones speaks for an administration that is pointedly not asking for more troops at the NATO summit. That may stem from a recognition that they're unlikely to get them. Jeremy Shapiro of Brookings says it's also a reflection of frustration within the U.S. military over NATO's cumbersome procedures.

Mr. SHAPIRO: There is a perception of poor performance of many of the key allies, and an extremely unwieldy command structure in Afghanistan. There are a lot, a lot of generals in Afghanistan - not quite clear why we need so many.

KELLY: In future, Shapiro and others say NATO allies will continue to play key roles in Afghanistan, but the U.S. will assert greater control over the battlefield. That shift is already well underway. A few months ago, the Pentagon expanded the job of General David McKiernan to make him overall commander of both U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And there may be more American troops. General McKiernan has requested an additional 10,000 U.S. forces be sent to Afghanistan next year.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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