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NATO gives backing to Obama's Afghan plan

EUROPEAN nations pledged yesterday on the eve of NATO's 60th anniversary summit that they would support the United States' new Afghan war strategy with more civilian aid and small troop increases.

NATO leaders have been reluctant to commit significant new military forces to the deadlocked conflict despite US President Barack Obama's plan to add 21,000 US troops to the force of 38,000 fighting the rising insurgency. The Europeans have focused on increasing humanitarian and development aid.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged after talks with Obama that his nation would send more police trainers and civilian aid. "We totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan," Sarkozy said.

NATO's ability to succeed in Afghanistan will be seen as a crucial test of the alliance's power and relevance.

Sarkozy's backing is vitally important for Obama, who was expected to formally present his new strategy to the heads of government of NATO's 28 member states at a dinner last night in the German resort town of Baden-Baden.

Obama described NATO as "the most successful alliance in modern history," and said Washington wanted to see Europe develop its military capabilities.

But Obama also encouraged a skeptical Europe to support his revamped strategy for rooting out terrorism suspects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and said Europe should not expect the US to send combat troops by itself.

"This is a joint problem," Obama said. "And it requires a joint effort."

Obama, who also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the formal start of the conference, offered strong praise for France's "outstanding leadership" in Afghanistan.

Spain said ahead of the summit that it will increase the number of soldiers it has in Afghanistan with a small contingent to help train Afghan army officers. Spain has 778 troops as part of the 55,000-strong NATO presence.

Belgium said it will add some 65 soldiers to the force of 500 it already has in Afghanistan, and will send two more F-16 jet fighters, bringing the total number it has sent to six. Belgium will also double its financial aid to 24 million euros (US$29 million) over the next two years.


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