Nato allies split over Washington’s call for more troops

The US administration has declared that it expects “significant new commitments” on Afghanistan from its European partners in Nato before the organisation’s April summit. But a meeting of defence ministers in Krakow has underlined serious differences between the allies on a war they are far from winning.

Last week Barack Obama dispatched 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a figure that is expected to rise to 30,000 in preparation for a “surge” to tackle what the President described as a “resurgent Taliban … and a deteriorating security situation”. Some Nato allies believe, however, that going for the military option would be ultimately fruitless. “Even 140,000 would not be enough to get victory,” a senior European diplomat said. “What we need is a new strategy, without so much emphasis on war fighting.”

A clear parallel was being drawn – the Soviet Union had around 140,000 troops in Afghanistan at the height of a conflict they lost. Even with the new American reinforcements, the total strength of the Western forces would be 80,000. In addition, many soldiers from European countries cannot take part in combat operations because of caveats imposed on their rules of engagement, a limitation that has attracted bitter criticism from the US and UK. But officials from these European states say that such caveats are necessary to prevent the alienation of the Afghan population.

President Hamid Karzai (pictured) is among those angered by civilian casualties caused during Western military operations. German forces had complained that they could not go to some villages or have access to the people “because the Americans had bombed in the area”.

There are also internal divisions in Nato about new “guidance” from General John Craddock, the American commander of Nato, who says Isaf (Nato’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) can open fire on drug traffickers, even without direct evidence linking them to the insurgents or to criminal activities. Egon Ramms, the head of the German command at Nato, and politicians in Berlin denounced the directive as illegal.

There was also opposition within Isaf. A classified document leaked from the office of General David McKiernan, the force’s US commander, said such action would “seriously undermine the commitment Isaf has made to the Afghan people and the international community … to restrain our use of force and avoid civilian casualties to the greatest degree predictable”.

The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said Washington would make a formal request for reinforcements at Nato’s April summit, but so far the indications are that these will come not in thousands but in hundreds. Italy has said it will send 500 more and Germany 600, although Berlin’s commitment would be to training rather than combat duties. Britain is sending 300 specialist troops to deal with roadside bombs and mines, which are claiming a steady toll of lives, but another 2,500 are expected to be deployed in time for the Afghan elections in August.

Mr Gates had asked that Nato’s rapid reaction force, which has never been deployed, should be sent to Afghanistan as a stopgap. This, however, was blocked by German objections. The prospect of sizeable European reinforcements appeared to diminish further with the Secretary-General of Nato, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, saying the international economic meltdown may force some countries to reduce their global commitments.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral