( Star Tribune )- President Bush heads to Europe today to try to rescue the faltering mission in Afghanistan, and key NATO allies plan to meet his demands for more forces with modest troop increases, though not by as much as U.S. military officers say is needed to put down a stubborn Taliban insurgency.
France has signaled it will announce at this week's NATO summit that it will send another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, while Britain plans to send about 800 more and Poland has already promised another 400. Germany and others refuse to contribute additional ground forces, and the United States may have to increase its own commitment to make up the shortfall, U.S. and European officials and analysts said.
The friction over force levels underscores a philosophical divide between the United States and its allies over the best approach in Afghanistan more than six years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government -- and, more broadly, over the future of the NATO alliance. The summit in Bucharest that opens Wednesday will also test the allies over issues such as NATO enlargement, missile defense and the relationship with an increasingly muscular Russia.
Nothing on the agenda is more important to Bush's legacy than turning Afghanistan around. "It's very clear that we all need to do more," national security adviser Stephen Hadley said last week. "The president's message is going to be one of the importance of success in Afghanistan, the need for all countries to make it a priority, the need for us to develop a more integrated strategy for success and the need for all of us to do more."
Gen. Dan K. McNeill, top commander of the NATO-led international force, has already sent the alliance a similar message in starker terms: Provide more troops or accept a longer war. "I'd like the NATO allies and their non-NATO partners in this alliance to properly resource this force," he said in a recent interview at his headquarters in Kabul.
McNeill estimated that it will be necessary to maintain at least the current foreign force level in Afghanistan -- now about 55,000, including 27,000 U.S. troops among NATO and non-NATO forces -- for at least three to five years until Afghan security forces are ready to take over. It will take that long for Afghan forces to obtain the airplanes, helicopters and other logistical support they need to be fully independent, he said.