NATO pledges more troops for Afghanistan
BUCHAREST, Romania — NATO leaders agreed to support two U.S.-backed proposals at the NATO summit on Thursday, while dealing a major blow to President Bush on a third issue.
The alliance agreed to fully endorse a U.S. plan to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and to urge Russia to drop its objections to the shield, senior American officials said Thursday. And U.S forces fighting in Afghanistan will be getting more support from the French in the form of a battalion-sized contingent that will deploy to the east, which in turn should trigger a ripple of re-enforcements to the volatile south.
But NATO allies agreed to hold off a plan to put Ukraine and Georgia on track to join the alliance — marking a defeat for Bush, who has lobbied hard for the admittance of the two emerging democracies. France and Germany opposed their entry.
Endorsement of the missile defense shield is contained in a communique that the leaders of the 26-nation military alliance planned to adopt Thursday, according to senior U.S. military, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the statement’s release.
The document will state that “ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to allied forces, territory and populations.”
It also will recognize “the substantial contribution to the protection of allies ... to be provided by the U.S.-led system,” the officials said.
The statement calls on all NATO members to explore ways in which the planned U.S. project, to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, can be linked with future missile shields elsewhere.
It says leaders should come up with recommendations to be considered at their next meeting in 2009, the officials said. The document calls on Russia to accept U.S. and NATO offers to cooperate on the system, which would involve 10 interceptor missiles based in Poland and a tracking radar site in the Czech Republic, the officials said.
Meanwhile, NATO leaders were set to meet on Afghanistan late Thursday afternoon, which was to be followed by an appearance by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Bucharest summit is expected to produce a plan for a path forward in the country, which essentially lays groundwork for Afghanistan to play a greater role in bolstering its own security.
But with fears of a re-emerging Taliban, such a development won’t happen overnight.
With France’s plan to commit roughly 800 troops, U.S. forces operating in the area will now be capable of providing some assistance to Canadians in the south. In recent months, Canada has threatened to pull its soldiers if more support from allies wasn’t forthcoming.
While Ukraine and Georgia were turned away, Croatia and Albania were welcomed as new NATO members, continuing the alliance’s thrust to the east. The proposal to accept Ukraine and Georgia upset the Russians — who also opposed the admission of Croatia and Albania — but is viewed by U.S. military and political leaders as strategically significant.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general, said the new countries will add stability to the troubled western Balkans.
“To those countries — welcome and congratulations,” de Hoop Scheffer said during a summit news conference.
For the U.S. European Command and its security partner NATO, the expansion of the alliance is part of an emerging military doctrine that aims to confront problems on the continent before they flare. Bush, during a news conference with leaders from the new NATO nations, echoed that notion, saying that the entrance of Albania and Croatia makes Europe “stronger and freer.”
Another nation seeking entry — Macedonia — was blocked by Greece because of a dispute involving its neighbor’s name. Bush said he was hopeful the dispute would be resolved and that Macedonia would soon gain acceptance.
Referring to the applicants: “All [of them] know the difference between good and evil,” Bush said. “These nations don’t take freedom for granted.”
De Hoop Scheffer says the alliance is committed to bringing both Georgia and Ukraine aboard one day. But France and Germany blocked a U.S. drive to formally start that process, saying it would harm already strained relations with Russia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.