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NATO envoys back McChrystal on Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers endorse the strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, increasing pressure on the Obama administration to commit more military resources.
Slovakia Nato Defense Ministers
Gen. Stanley McChrystal listens to Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday. McChrystal received "broad support" for his Afghan strategy, NATO's secretary general said.Virginia Mayo / AP
/ Source: The New York Times

NATO defense ministers gave their broad endorsement Friday to the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan laid out by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, increasing pressure on the Obama administration and on their own governments to commit more military and civilian resources for the mission to succeed.

General McChrystal, the senior American and allied commander in Afghanistan, landed here early Friday to brief NATO defense ministers on his strategic review of an 8-year-old war in which the American-led effort has lost momentum to a tenacious insurgency. The closed-door session — which had not been disclosed in advance — added a note of drama to the sort of NATO ministerial meeting that is often mundane.

“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 counterinsurgency approach,” said NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Although the broad acceptance by NATO defense ministers of General McChrystal’s strategic review included no decision on new troops, it was another in a series of acknowledgements that success there cannot be achieved by a narrower effort that calls only for capturing and killing Al Qaeda-linked terrorists. That counter-terrorism strategy is identified with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

In contrast, General McChrystal’s review calls for implementing a full-scale counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on protecting population centers and accelerating the training of Afghan army and police units both requiring significant numbers of fresh troops. NATO diplomats noted that it is difficult to see how an acceptance of this broad strategy can be viewed as anything but an endorsement of the need to increase both military and civilian contributions.

Gates in 'listening mode'
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, whose views carry great weight in Mr. Obama’s war council, declined to be drawn out on his assessment. “For this meeting, I am here mainly in listening mode,” Mr. Gates said, although he noted that “many allies spoke positively about General McChrystal’s assessment.”

Mr. Gates said the administration’s decision on Afghanistan 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 stressed that allied defense ministers had not voiced concerns about the administration’s decision-making process.

Although NATO will not meet until next month to decide whether to commit more resources to Afghanistan, Mr. Gates did reveal that he had received indications that some allies were prepared to increase their contributions of civilian experts or troops, or both.

Separate from his strategic review, General McChrystal has submitted a request for forces, which was not under discussion Friday, but is now working its way through both the American and NATO chains of command.

The various options submitted by General McChrystal range up to a maximum of 85,000 more troops, although his leading option calls for increasing forces by about 40,000, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

Pressure for adding troops mounted throughout the day, as other senior international representatives also told NATO defense ministers of the need to increase their commitments in order to succeed in Afghanistan.

Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, flew to Slovakia to meet NATO defense chiefs, and he stressed that “additional international troops are required.” He also told the allies, “This cannot be a U.S.-only enterprise.”

Mr. Eide acknowledged that it may be difficult to rally public support for force contributions while allegations of election fraud continue to taint the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Senior American military officers already have endorsed General McChrystal’s overall strategy, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in the Middle East. Neither officer has publicly discussed what specific troop increases he might advocate.

Senior NATO officials made clear that additional commitments should go beyond combat forces to include trainers for the Afghan army and police force, as well as civilians to help rebuild the economy and restore confidence in the government.

“What we need is a much broader strategy, which stabilizes the whole of Afghan society, and this is the essence in the recommendations presented by General McChrystal,” said Mr. Rasmussen, the alliance secretary general. “This won’t happen just because of a good plan. It will also need resources — people and money.”

McChrystal expected to stay mum
General McChrystal was not scheduled to make any public comments here. This reserve was not unexpected, as some administration officials have criticized his recent statements, including a speech in London, as an attempt to pressure the White House to act.

The general and his aides have denied they were playing politics, and have expressed respect for the importance of the civilian-led policy review process now underway in Washington. General McChrystal said in a recent interview that his ability to succeed requires a unified, government-wide strategy and that he welcomed a process that resulted in a consensus from his civilian bosses that would include clear instructions on the way ahead.

NATO officials assessing the potential for allied troop contributions said that delicate negotiations are underway, and that NATO capitals were watching the Obama administration for signals even while they send signals of their own.

In what one NATO diplomat described as “a chicken-and-egg process,” the British government, for example, announced earlier this month a plan still laced with conditions for sending 500 more troops to Afghanistan. Some NATO diplomats viewed that as a way to emphasize their support for a decision by the Obama administration to deploy more troops for the mission.

At the same time, though, some allies with forces in Afghanistan are cautiously discussing how and when to end their deployments there.

This report, "