BRUSSELS - Twenty-five NATO allies promised on Friday to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan, backing President Barack Obama's new war strategy and stepping up international efforts to defeat the Taliban.
While significant, the extra commitment falls short of the 10,000 troops that Pentagon officials had originally hoped for and goes only part way towards accelerating the training of Afghan forces to take over security responsibility.
Following a meeting with NATO foreign ministers, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had received confirmed pledges for the extra troops, with the probability of more countries contributing to the total in the next few months.
Nations are backing up their words with deeds, Rasmussen told a news conference. That is solidarity in action and it will have a powerful effect on the ground.
The move follows Obama's decision on December 1 to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, marking an attempt to turn the tide in the eight-year war and regain the initiative from the Taliban, which has gained strength over the past year.
Rasmussen said the extra troops, which with the added U.S. contribution will raise the total number of foreign forces in Afghanistan to around 140,000, would help to tackle the insurgency, but would not be enough to defeat it alone.
There are no silver bullets, no magic solutions, he said. It will still take more time, more commitment and more patience to reach our shared goal.
Rasmussen laid out what he called a new road map for NATO operations, involving more troops, more aid and more training for Afghan security forces, as well as efforts to reintegrate Taliban fighters who agree to lay down their arms.
But even with the extra troops, the NATO alliance faces a struggle to coordinate its efforts and regain the upper hand against an insurgency that has expanded into previously stable regions of Afghanistan and has strongholds inside Pakistan.
While the extra troops represent a stepped-up commitment, the pledges must be set against plans by the Netherlands and Canada to withdraw a total of 4,900 combat forces in 2010 and 2011, reflecting public unease with the war.
Key allies France and Germany appear more willing to send trainers than combat troops and have said they will take a decision on any further commitment only after a conference on Afghanistan to be held in London on January 28.
MORE TRAINERS NEEDED
NATO still needs over 200 more police and military training teams to boost Afghan forces so they can eventually take over security responsibility and allow foreign forces to withdraw.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who held one-on-one talks with Rasmussen, said the United States was seeking a range of help, including civilian assistance and military training, to prepare Afghanistan to take charge of its own destiny.
But she reassured allies that their commitment would not need to be open-ended.
The need for additional forces is urgent, but their presence will not be indefinite, she said, noting that Obama's timeline called for Afghans to begin taking over in July 2011.
At that time, we will begin to transfer authority and responsibility to Afghan security forces, removing combat forces from Afghanistan over time with the assurance that Afghanistan's future, and ours, is secure, Clinton said.
U.S. officials have been scrambling to back away from suggestions that mid-2011 has been set as a firm date for the start of a troop withdrawal, even if some of the extra U.S. troops being sent could start to pull out by then.
Rasmussen said the start of any withdrawal should not be seen as the international coalition abandoning the country.
Transition doesn't mean exit, he said. There should be no misunderstanding: we are not going to leave Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of terrorists and the extremists who host them. It will not happen.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Ilona Wissenbach; editing by David Stamp)