U.S. at odds with NATO over troops for Afghanistan

Tue Jan 29, 2008 6:17pm EST
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By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will press its European NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan's violent south in response to Canada's call for reinforcements, but the Pentagon said it will not commit any more of its own forces there.

More than six years after the U.S.-led invasion, the issue of security in Afghanistan came to a head this week when Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened to pull out Canada's 2,500 troops early next year unless NATO sent in more soldiers.

NATO said on Tuesday it shared Canada's view of the need to bolster its peace operation but dismissed charges that allies were dragging their feet, noting a huge expansion since 2003.

The Taliban rulers were toppled by the invasion in late 2001 but the Islamist militants and their al Qaeda allies have made an explosive comeback in the last two years, slowing Afghanistan's economic growth and reconstruction.

U.S. defense officials have also regularly complained about the unwillingness of European allies to dedicate more combat troops and equipment to Afghanistan.

"We've got a number of allies with us there," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. "Hopefully they can see to it to dig deeper and find additional forces."

The resurgence of the militants comes despite the presence of 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military, backed by partially Western-trained and equipped Afghan security forces now numbering more than 120,000.

The United States has 29,000 troops in Afghanistan and earlier this month ordered another 3,200 Marines to be deployed there. Morrell said 2,200 of those would be sent to the restive south, which includes Kandahar.   Continued...

<p>A U.S. soldier looks through a pair of binoculars on his rifle as he patrols the Jaji district of the southeastern Paktia province, near the Afghan-Pakistan border January 28, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>