WASHINGTON – Stepping into an intensifying debate, the new head of NATO said Monday that more allied troops are needed in Afghanistan to help train the country’s security forces.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who took over Aug. 1, said he agreed with an assessment in August by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, who emphasized the need to secure Afghan cities.
“We have to do more now, if we want to do less later,” Rasmussen said during a speech in Washington.
McChrystal, in addition to his assessment, has submitted a request for additional U.S. forces, but officials will not say how many he wants. Aside from the need for more trainers, Rasmussen said it was premature to discuss other troop needs.
The comments by Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, come as key members of the NATO alliance are making plans to pull troops from Afghanistan.
They also come in the midst of a review launched by President Barack Obama to decide whether to stick with a strategy that requires more troops or downsize U.S. aims in Afghanistan.
Administration officials plan a closed meeting among high-level officials today on the issue.
In his address at the Atlantic Council, Rasmussen stressed that allies would stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to succeed. But he said NATO countries must have a sense that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” and that Afghan security forces would assume more responsibility.
That transition, he emphasized, could not be done “on the cheap.”
Acknowledging a strain between the United States and the rest of NATO, Rasmussen dismissed U.S. fears that the alliance is intent on leaving Afghanistan.
“None of this will be quick, and none of this will be easy,” he said. “We will need to have patience. We will need more resources, and we will lose more young soldiers to the terrorist attacks of the Taliban.”
Public support for the Afghan war has been shaken in the U.S. and in many NATO countries by a steady increase in violence, charges of fraud during the Afghan presidential election in August and continuing incidents of civilian casualties.
“We cannot simply continue doing what we are doing now,” Rasmussen said. “Things are going to have to change. Public support for this mission in troop-contributing countries is falling.”
Over the long term, he argued, it is vital to establish a democracy in Afghanistan and to address governmental corruption.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today’s meetings were designed to make “eventual determinations” about U.S. strategy.
“This isn’t going to be finished in one meeting,” he said.