Obama Wants More NATO Troops In Afghanistan

In Europe, political leaders had been waiting for President Obama's Afghan war strategy speech. Obama did not specifically mention a number of troops that he wants to see contributed from NATO allies, but he did say he has asked for contributions. The president said "we must come together to end this war successfully."

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In his speech last night, committing another 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, President Obama called on NATO allies to contribute more troops as well. He didn't give a number though. Many in Europe oppose the war and initial reaction appears mixed, as NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Europeans woke up to the news of President Obama's speech this morning and, metaphorically at least, appeared to stifle a collective yawn. As the U.S. has been consumed by the crucial moment in the new Obama presidency, what's striking here is how little attention is being paid to it by the general public. In political circles, at least though, President Obama's speech was welcomed and commitments to help were made. The former Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is now the general secretary of NATO.

Mr. ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO General Secretary): On behalf of NATO, I warmly welcome President Obama's announcement on the new U.S. approach and commitment to our mission in Afghanistan. And I'm confident that other allies and partners will also make a substantial increase in their contributions.

GIFFORD: Fogh Rasmussen said he was expecting at least 5,000 more troops from NATO allies. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had on Monday already preempted President Obama's request by announcing 500 more British troops for Afghanistan. Other countries have yet to finalize what kind of numbers they may send, if at all, but it's likely to be a few hundred here and a few hundred there.

Some smaller members of NATO, such as Georgia, Slovakia and Portugal have pledged more troops. But German leader Angela Merkel said she will wait until a major conference on Afghanistan in London in January before making any decision whether to add to the 4,500 German soldiers currently there.

Christian Tuschhoff of the Free University in Berlin says Obama's speech presents Germans and Europeans more generally with something of a dilemma.

Professor CHRISTIAN TUSCHHOFF (Free University): People actually want to support Barack Obama as a new president who is significantly different from George W. Bush. From that point of view, people would be in favor of supporting and meeting Obama's request.

On the other hand, the war against terrorism, or the stabilization effort in Afghanistan, is highly unpopular, especially in Germany, but beyond, simply because we are not making the kind of progress that we're hoping to make in Afghanistan.

GIFFORD: And that, says Tuschhoff, makes people reluctant to expend more blood and treasure. In his speech last night, President Obama said that what's at stake is not simply NATO's credibility but the security of U.S. allies and the common security of the world.

In Britain, where many plots - including the one that killed 52 people on the London subway in 2005 - appear to have been hatched on the Pakistan, Afghan border, there is a degree of acceptance of that point. But more broadly in Europe, that link is less clear, says Roberto Menotti of the Aspen Institute in Rome.

Mr. ROBERTO MENOTTI (Aspen Institute): As in most European countries, I think Italy has a problem understanding whether there is a direct link between our security here and the mission there.

GIFFORD: Menotti says that general commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan means the Italian government, like other NATO allies, should be able to sell a short term boost in troop numbers to its people. Attitudes to Afghanistan, which was seen as a necessary war, contrasts sharply with the views on the Iraq war, which was not.

But doubts and grumbles persist. The economies here in Europe, as President Obama noted for the U.S. last night, are still in bad shape. And perhaps what made people listen most of all in last night's speech was the commitment to start bringing troops home.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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