Tuesday, September 7, 2010

U.S. says not considering NATO Afghan troop request

The United States does not plan to contribute to a NATO request for 2,000 troops for the Afghan war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, even as the head of the alliance held out the possibility of U.S. participation. The NATO commander in Afghanistan submitted a request last week that alliance officials said called for another 2,000 soldiers, including 750 trainers.

Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the request referred to a long-standing NATO requirement focusing on training Afghan forces.

Last year, NATO allies failed to meet all NATO requests for trainers and Washington temporarily deployed 850 troops to help fill the gap. Those soldiers are due back in the United States this fall and no more were being considered, Lapan said.

"We would look for NATO to first fill that requirement," Lapan told reporters at the Pentagon.

U.S. forces count for 95,000 of the nearly 150,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking earlier with reporters in Washington, said it was still unclear where the extra soldiers would come from and did not rule out the possibility that some might be U.S. troops.

"The composition of the 2,000 will very much depend on the force generation process. So here and now I don't know how many will be U.S., how many will be other allies and partners," Rasmussen said when asked how many might be U.S. troops.

"But in the past we have succeeded to keep it as a broad alliance mission and I expect that to continue."

President Barack Obama ordered a "surge" of 30,000 additional soldiers for the unpopular Afghan war last December but said those forces would start withdrawing in July 2011.

Any additional increases could undercut that drawdown, which supporters say conveys a needed sense of urgency to ramp up Afghan security forces for an eventual handover after nine years of war.

Critics say the July 2011 date has backfired, sending a signal that the United States is preparing to wind down at a time when NATO forces are suffering record casualties.

Rasmussen, who later met Obama at the White House, said he believed the July 2011 date fit into plans to start gradually passing security responsibility to Afghan forces next year.

But he declined to set a date in 2011 for the transition to begin, saying it would depend on conditions on the ground.

"It's a clear military assessment that we can't do it this year," Rasmussen said. "But based on the reports that I have seen ... I find it realistic to start the process next year."

Rasmussen said he hoped to be able to make announcements "in broad terms" at a NATO conference in Lisbon in November about where in Afghanistan the transition might start.

"We have to make sure that we get conditions right before we start this process because a transition to lead Afghan responsibility should be irreversible," he said. "We'll not be in a position to take responsibility back afterwards. That would be a disaster."


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