NATO defense chiefs meeting in Seville on Thursday are unlikely to make major new offers of troops or equipment to battle insurgents in Afghanistan despite growing U.S. pressure, alliance sources said.
NATO officials stress the two-day meeting in the Spanish city is not a force-pledging conference. But there is no doubt Washington wants more European contributions after it promised extra Afghan aid and thousands more troops last month.
“It’s one thing to say: 'We have put this on the table, now match it.' But it is another to work out who is going to stump anything up,” said one alliance source of a widespread reluctance to add troops to the 34,000-strong NATO-led mission.
With more than 4,000 people killed in violence, last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban Islamist government in 2001.
Washington’s announcement last month that it was extending tour duties of some 3,200 troops was swiftly followed by news Britain would add a further 800 troops to its contingent battling the worst of the violence in southern Afghanistan.
But diplomats and other NATO sources said major allies including France, Spain, Italy and Turkey — all with an existing presence in the country — had signaled they would not make further large contributions in the near-term.
Germany is due on Wednesday to decide whether to deploy Tornado reconnaissance jets to the south but has resisted pressure to allow its troops based in the relatively quiet north to take part in fighting in other parts of the country.
U.S. commitment questioned
NATO’s four-year presence in Afghanistan has been dogged by U.S. accusations its allies are not shouldering their share of the security burden and European retorts that Washington is underestimating their overall commitment to the country.
The U.S. announcement of more troops and aid for Afghanistan was intended as a sign to the country that it was not abandoning it to concentrate on Iraq.
Iraq will not be on the agenda at the Seville talks — the first meeting of new U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates with his NATO counterparts.
But the question of how the U.S. army juggles the demands of fighting two wars simultaneously is likely to feature highly at a high-profile annual security conference in Munich this weekend which Gates will also attend.