NATO allies reluctant on Afghanistan

The World

LISA MULLINS: I’m Lisa Mullins. This is The World. President Obama has announced plans to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Those soldiers and Marines would bolster the 33,000 American forces already in the country. The US plans put pressure on America’s NATO allies to also increase their deployments to Afghanistan, too. But European NATO members are reluctant to do that. The World’s Gerry Hadden reports from Germany.

GERRY HADDEN: By and large, Germans are against sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. And as the Taliban makes gains, that reluctance only seems to grow. �I don’t think the war is necessary,� says this man, Tomas, �We should just live and let live, and stop the killing.� The German government, like most in Europe, is caught between such public sentiment and NATO’s urgent calls for more soldiers. And with the new US administration unveiling its Afghanistan plan, the pressure just got greater, says Matias Dembensky, an analyst at the Peace and Research Institute in Frankfurt.

MATIAS DEMBENSKY: Obama, in a certain way, is a major challenge for Germany’s foreign policy. It has been rather easy to reject demands by the Bush administration. On the one hand, they see that Obama is much more honest when he says he has a multi-lateralist agenda and that allies should have greater say on a common strategy towards Afghanistan. But on the other hand, also they see that Obama will ask for more support.

HADDEN: Europe is making cautious concessions. Germany has appointed a special envoy to Afghanistan to bolster its diplomatic engagement in the region, and it will send 600 more soldiers temporarily during Afghanistan’s general elections, scheduled for August. However small, the new deployments will come with strings, says Dembensky. He says Germany wants more say on an issue closer to home: fixing relations with Russia.

DEMBENSKY: Most people in Germany would argue that Russia is not our enemy, and that we should do everything not to frustrate Russia.

HADDEN: For Germany, that means sidelining NATO expansion and a Europe-based missile defense shield developed under President Bush. Both initiatives have angered the Kremlin and some say prompted it to retaliate. Russia is believed to have pressured its Central Asia neighbor, Kyrgyzstan, to close a key US military supply base there. Then it about-faced, suggesting it might offer NATO its own transit route into Afghanistan. The idea of opening a third transit route has been floated by NATO officials through Iran. President Obama hasn’t addressed the issue directly, but at a press conference last week, he did indicate a willingness to engage Iran.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So my national security team is currently reviewing our existing Iran policy, looking at areas where we can have dialogue, where we can directly engage with them. And my expectation is in the coming months we will be looking for openings.

HADDEN: Cooperation on Afghanistan could be a first step towards broader engagement with Iran, but so far, European governments aren’t commenting on the Iran option � perhaps because striking a transit deal with Tehran might also backfire. For example, if Russia felt snubbed, it might be less willing to help the West convince Iran to end its nuclear program. What’s clear is that the NATO-led mission to Afghanistan needs to move quickly if it is to make the most of its surge in troops. In the spring, the Taliban will be on the move again. For The World, I’m Gerry Hadden in Frankfurt, Germany.

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