U.S. Pushes NATO for More Help in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan tops the agenda as the NATO summit opens in Riga, Latvia. President Bush is expected to push European allies for more soldiers and increased spending. In particular, Germany has been under intense international pressure to expand operations in Afghanistan.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

Afghanistan tops the agenda at a NATO summit opening today in Riga, Latvia. President Bush is expected to push European allies for more soldiers and more spending. In particular, Germany has been getting intense international pressure to expand operations in Afghanistan in a debate that's been increasingly blunt.

From Berlin, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS: Much of the backroom pressure to get Germans to fight in Afghanistan flared openly in Quebec two weeks ago at a meeting of parliamentary members from NATO countries. Germany allows its nearly 3,000 troops to operate only in the northern part of Afghanistan, except for a few sent to the more violent south on temporary missions. In Quebec and in interview afterwards, British Labour MP, Frank Cook said these German restrictions are hurting NATO's solidarity.

Member of Parliament FRANK COOK (Labour Party, Great Britain): And I said to them, well, what happens if 10,000 Taliban suddenly storm over the Hindu Kush and put you into some difficulty? And you shout, mayday, mayday, mayday, and somebody in Kabul says, sorry, German, we cannot come because our government has given us a caveat that won't allow us to cross the Hindu Kush. It would be preposterous - just as preposterous as them not being able to go to the south.

HARRIS: He admits the Taliban have never had strength in Afghanistan's north, so 10,000 pouring into the German area of operations is unlikely. But he doesn't back off from insisting that southern Afghanistan needs more troops and Germany is well-placed to provide them.

Karl Lahmers disagrees.

Mr. KARL LAHMERS (Christian Social Union Party, Germany): That is not a question to Germany alone.

HARRIS: Lahmers is a member of Germany's conservative Christian Social Union Party. He says Germany is doing what it promised to do in northern Afghanistan.

Mr. LAHMERS: We fulfill our obligations one-to-one and I think that we have a good reason to say that our contribution to this mission in Afghanistan is very worthwhile.

HARRIS: He says Germany hasn't been good at getting the word out about what's been accomplished around Mazar-e Sharif - where the Germans are headquartered -such as two new hospitals, new roads and other infrastructure projects.

The German government says stability would be put at risk if a significant number of troops were redeployed south. But more fundamentally, there is disagreement within Germany about the strategy that NATO and the U.S. have been pursuing in the south.

German legislator Rainer Stinner says these operations result in too many civilian deaths - which, he says, turn Afghans against the foreign troops and make their mission near impossible.

Mr. RAINER STINNER (Free Democratic Party, Germany): Specifically in the south, at the moment - yes, you are able to kill some Taliban, but the way how you're doing it, there's a big danger that you kill two and you get 30 more.

HARRIS: At the meeting in Quebec, one British member of Parliament linked the deaths of Canadian soldiers in a fight with the Taliban this fall to restrictions on German and French troops that meant they couldn't respond when help was needed in the south. So-called caveats to national restrictions are one thing NATO commanders reportedly check first when planning missions. At the summit in Riga, Canadian Conservative Party Senator Pierre Claude Nolin won't get into the controversies. He says the important question is NATO's future.

Senator PIERRE CLAUDE NOLIN (Conservative Party of Canada, Quebec): In Afghanistan, it's a mission that is a test for NATO, so I'm not going to get into, oh, you should have done that, or that you didn't, or - let's look at the future. Let's agree on the very nature of our alliance.

HARRIS: Rumors are flying in Berlin and Riga that Germany will make some kind of offer to help out in the south. But at this point, one NATO official is more cheered by the promised contribution of Poland, due next year: up to 1,000 troops, specifically with no mission restrictions.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

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