November 3, 2009 / 6:46 PM / 10 years ago

Europe reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan

* Obama, Merkel discuss Afghanistan

* Barroso: Comprehensive strategy needed for Afghanistan

By Ross Colvin

WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - European nations are unlikely to contribute more troops to Afghanistan, the head of the European Commission said on Tuesday, as President Barack Obama weighs boosting U.S. forces there.

Opinion polls in many European countries show clear majorities in favor of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. There are some 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 from allied nations there.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has recommended boosting the number of foreign forces by up to 40,000 in a bid to arrest a deteriorating security situation.

"Honestly in Europe there is not great enthusiasm for sending more troops to Afghanistan. That is the public opinion situation in Europe," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Washington.

Barroso said he would discuss the need for a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan that focused on improving governance and increasing training of Afghan security forces when he met Obama later on Tuesday.

He emphasized that the European Union was already one of the biggest contributors of civilian aid to Afghanistan, sending about 1 billion euros ($1.48 billion) annually.

European ministers have said they expect any new troop pledges could come at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December.

OVAL OFFICE TALKS

More than 40 countries have sent forces to the war under the auspices of NATO. Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Poland are the largest European contributors, with a total of 21,000 troops there.

Obama has been holding a series of meetings with his security team to review the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban and a rise in violence. Last month was the bloodiest for U.S. troops since they invaded in 2001.

He was due to hold talks with Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Oval office later on Tuesday.

Earlier, Obama held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and officials said Afghanistan was discussed.

"We appreciate the sacrifices of German soldiers in Afghanistan, and our common work there to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and to create the environment in which the Afghan people themselves can provide for their own security," Obama said in brief comments to reporters.

In Germany, polls show about two-thirds of people favor withdrawal. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said last month Germany was likely to stick with its ceiling of 4,500 troops when it renews a parliamentary mandate in December.

NATO members have backed McChrystal’s proposed strategy shift, which if Obama agrees to it, will see a greater focus on training and boosting the size of Afghan security forces.

But they have sidestepped the issues of whether there should be a big increase in foreign troop numbers. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham) (For more stories on Afghanistan, click [ID:nAFPAK])




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