Wednesday, July 01, 2009

US seeks European funds, troops for Afghanistan by Patrick Rahir Patrick Rahir

Europe must commit more funds and troops to stabilise Afghanistan after the August presidential elections, the US envoy to NATO Ivo Daalder said Wednesday.

"The US is doing its part -- Europe and Germany can and should do more," Daalder told a conference on transatlantic relations in Berlin.

"Additional troops (sent to Afghanistan to provide security during the elections) must stay after the elections."

Daalder said the United States estimated 17 billion dollars was needed to train and equip the Afghan army and two billion dollars per year to sustain it.

"There is no way Afghanistan can pay for its force," he said, noting that the Afghan government had taken in about 750 million dollars in revenues last year.

He said the United States would pay 5.5 billion dollars this year and 7.5 billion dollars next year but said it was crucial that Europe make up the difference.

"This is a weakness in our effort that we cannot afford," he said, adding that more training for Afghan police was also essential.

Daalder noted that the United States had consulted with European allies "for two months" in redefining its strategy in Afghanistan and incorporated several of their demands including a stronger focus on reconstruction and diplomacy.

He said it was now up to the allies to reciprocate by stepping up to the plate.

The German government's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bernd Muetzelburg, acknowledged at the conference that Europe had a bigger role to play but that financial constraints made this difficult to realise.

"Obviously the Europeans will have to do more," he said. "In this financial crisis it is not going to be easy."

Between 8,000 and 10,000 international troops are to join the around 60,000-strong NATO-led military force in Afghanistan for August 20 presidential elections, the alliance has said.

NATO recently launched an anti-insurgent drive to dislodge Taliban militants from their strongholds ahead of the polls.

The insurgency has gained pace in recent weeks, raising fears for the security of Afghanistan's second ever presidential ballot.

There are about 90,000 foreign troops -- mostly from the United States -- stationed in Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and help train Afghan forces.

The polls, for president and provincial councils, are seen as a test of international efforts to help spread democracy in Afghanistan, but they come as Taliban-led violence has reached record highs there.

Thousands of mostly US troops are moving in to provide security for the elections and to reinforce the turbulent south, a Taliban stronghold.

In remarks published Wednesday, NATO's outgoing top commander, General John Craddock, had a few parting shots for Europe as he formally handed over his post, criticising the continent's engagement in Afghanistan.

The US general told Germany's Stuttgarter Zeitung that European leaders often used critical public opinion "as an excuse not to forge ahead" in hotspots such as Afghanistan.

Taking aim in particular at Germany's mandate in Afghanistan which places restrictions on the use of military force, Craddock said: "Unfortunately we have far too many limitations in Afghanistan," in remarks published in German.

He said the debate over the use of military force was often driven by opinion polls among voters "regardless of whether they are informed or not."

No comments: