Europe unlikely to respond fully on Afghan troops

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s European allies are unlikely to send as many troops as he wants to Afghanistan but some analysts say this could rally support at home for his expected pledge to dispatch more U.S. troops.

Obama is widely expected to announce on Tuesday he will send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help quell violence that has reached its deadliest level since the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001.

Pentagon officials hope NATO member-states will supplement the buildup with up to 10,000 of their own troops and trainers, to make up the shortfall on the 40,000 additional troops General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, says are needed to counter the resurgent Taliban.

But NATO diplomats and defense analysts say about half that figure is a more realistic amount to expect from Europe. Britain says it expects NATO allies other than the United States to pledge 5,000 additional troops.

“He (Obama) would prefer they put in more, but one way to argue the case in the United States is to say that once again the Europeans are letting us down and we have to do it ourselves,” said Bob Jackson, an analyst at London’s Chatham House think tank.

He said this could resonate with the U.S. public, adding: “In the United States, calling for the Europeans to do more and then finding they won’t will show that he’s a fairly tough minded leader -- it will show he’s standing up for something.”

NATO diplomats said the alliance was hoping for more than 5,000 troops from non-U.S. allies, but some diplomats and analysts said the actual number could be even lower as some countries could present troops that deployed for August elections in Afghanistan as reinforcements.

Discussions will take place at a NATO foreign ministers meeting this week and at a military conference next Monday, but some allies are likely to wait for an international conference envisaged in January before making new commitments.


There are about 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, anchored by a 68,000-strong American force. While army chiefs have called for more soldiers, waning public support in Europe and the United States has made meeting such demands difficult.

European countries could find themselves under pressure from Obama to commit significantly more resources to the civilian effort, including police training.

NATO Defense College Analyst Christopher Schnaubelt said some EU countries had capabilities, such as in training paramilitary police forces, that the United States did not have.

“Hopefully they will be more helpful on the police training. Five thousand soldiers plus a bigger increase in police training forces could have an important and substantive effect,” he said.

Tarak Barkawi, a defense expert at Britain’s Cambridge University, said continued engagement from Europe was more important to Obama than troop numbers.

“In fact small troop contingents from different European countries are often more trouble than they are worth for the Americans. What they are looking for is a sign of commitment from the Europeans,” he said.

However, he said it was unrealistic to be expect to train effective defense forces in a relatively short time.

“To say a three-, four-, five-year commitment to training troops is going to get you a stable state you can withdraw from doesn’t seem to be the case,” he said.

He said host countries tended to become dependent on Americans and Europeans to do their training and run their logistics.

“It is entirely unclear that tens of thousands of foreign troops are somehow going to produce what centuries of foreign involvement in Afghanistan haven’t done up to now,” he said.

Jackson said Europe risked losing credibility if it failed to respond in Afghanistan and it would call into question Europe’s ambitions become a significant world force.

But he dismissed arguments that it could lead to a collapse of NATO as an effective Euro-Atlantic alliance.

“There have been these kinds of crisis ever since NATO started,” he said, “but there are fundamental reasons why transatlantic unity will remain in place.

“The Europeans are going to get mocked, yes, but is NATO going to fall apart, no. The U.S. will remain the supreme leader of the Euro-Atlantic alliance, and it’s going to prove that Europe can’t provide the new world leadership it talks of.”