Barack Obama fails to win Nato troops he wants for Afghanistan
Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to America’s allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning that failure to do so would leave Europe vulnerable to more terrorist atrocities.
But though he continued to dazzle Europeans on his debut international tour, the Continent’s leaders turned their backs on the US President.
Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.
Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.
The derisory response threatened to tarnish Mr Obama’s European tour, which yesterday included a spellbinding performance in Strasbourg in which he offered the world a vision of a future free of nuclear weapons.
Mr Obama – who has pledged 21,000 more troops to combat the growing insurgency and is under pressure from generals to supply up to 10,000 more – used the eve of Nato’s 60th anniversary summit to declare bluntly that it was time for allies to do their share. “Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” he said. “This is a joint problem it requires a joint effort.”
He said that failing to support the US surge would leave Europe open to a fresh terrorist offensive. “It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack on Europe than on the United States because of proximity,” he said.
The presidential charm offensive failed to move fellow Nato countries. President Sarkozy told Mr Obama that France would not be sending reinforcements to bolster its existing force northeast of Kabul.
Germany, Italy, Poland, Canada and Denmark said that they were considering their positions. After a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Mr Obama tried to apply further moral pressure. “I am sure that Germany, as one of the most important leaders in Europe, will be stepping up to the plate and helping us to get the job done.”
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato Secretary-General, warned that new laws proposed by President Karzai in Afghanistan sanctioning child marriage and marital rape had made it harder to raise more soldiers.
“We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me,” he said.
“I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I’m sending the guys to the Hindu Kush.”
The temporary British deployment falls short of the 2,000 soldiers that the Army had planned to deploy long-term to Afghanistan and appeared to catch defence chiefs by surprise.
Mr Brown announced the commitment as he flew into Strasbourg for the two-day summit, but hopes that it would spur other allies to follow suit were soon dashed. British officials said that the extra troops, expected to number between 500 and 700 – increasing Britain’s military strength there to about 9,000 – would be dispatched to southern Afghanistan for a four-month period leading up to and beyond the election, due to take place on August 20.
The plan is to withdraw them once the election is over. Mr Brown said that the extra troops were only supposed to provide a “temporary uplift”.
Military contingency plans remain on the table to send up to 2,000 more troops long-term, taking the total to 10,000, but that will depend on the political will to approve the deployment.
Although the Prime Minister discussed Afghanistan with President Obama when they held bilateral talks before the G20 summit in London, it is understood that no formal offer of extra troops was made.