Nato defence ministers signalled their backing for the Afghan strategy put forward by the American commander General Stanley McChrystal yesterday in an implicit rejection of the alternative plan proposed by US Vice-President Joe Biden.
The general had made an unscheduled appearance at the meeting of ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia, to give a presentation behind closed doors. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, said: "What we did today was to discuss General McChrystal's overall assessment, his overall approach, and I have noted a broad support from all ministers of this overall counter-insurgency approach."
The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said he was at the summit "mainly in a listening mode" with his Nato counterparts. Significantly, he added: "Many allies spoke positively about General McChrystal's assessment."
The general has asked for between 20,000 and 40,000 extra troops to implement his counter-insurgency strategy. This is being opposed by an influential faction led by Vice-President Biden who has spoken against sending large-scale reinforcements and wants, instead, to concentrate on a counter-terrorism mission hunting al-Qa'ida across the border in Pakistan.
Diplomatic sources say Nato endorsement of General McChrystal has led to anger in the Biden camp. They had criticised the commander for promoting his strategy, including on a visit to London, while President Barack Obama is still weighing up the options.
In Britain, the head of the Army, General Sir David Richards, has led allied military leaders in stressing that "more boots on the ground" were needed to establish security. The UK is already committed to sending 500 extra troops although the actual deployment will not be mounted until President Obama announces his decision.
Mr Gates said the announcement was still two or three weeks away, and he cautioned that it was "vastly premature" to draw conclusions now about whether the President would deploy more troops. He added that some countries had indicated a willingness to add to both their military and civil aid. Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark would not send more troops just yet. A further Nato meeting on Afghanistan is planned next month.
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