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US allies wary of Obama’s Afghanistan troop plea

BRUSSELS – President Barack Obama won flattering words but little solid firepower from European allies for his new Afghanistan strategy Wednesday, as small countries pitched in small troop reinforcements but bigger armies held back.

The chief of NATO rallied behind Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more forces to Afghanistan, pledging 5,000 more from other NATO members.

Poland was the biggest European ally to offer more forces after Obama’s Tuesday speech, in an apparent bid for more attention from a U.S. administration sometimes seen as too removed from Europe’s concerns.

“This is not just America’s war,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. Yet in many capitals, including Paris and Berlin, the answer to Obama’s plea was “Let’s wait and see.”

European countries are cool to sending more soldiers to a war that often looks unwinnable and supporting an Afghan government tainted by corruption and election fraud. Some leaders are looking to an international conference on Afghanistan in London next month before promising any more troops.

“The United States has lost a bit of its credibility as a leader. Many leaders, both European and non-European, feel that because of domestic political reasons, Obama is not willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to win,” said Florentino Portero, professor of the National Open University in Madrid. He said Obama’s call for 30,000 troops was not enough to defeat the Taliban.

Much of the European reaction Wednesday focused on the need for a political solution and to bolster Afghanistan’s own army and police. Some countries that committed no troops may later come up with police trainers or money for civilian projects instead.

“It is absolutely crucial for our strategy that the Afghans start to take control of security as soon as possible,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Britain announced before Obama’s speech it is sending 500 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing its numbers there to 10,000.

Poland led the European offers Wednesday of combat troops. A Polish official said the government will likely send 600 combat-ready reinforcements, mainly for patrolling and training to beef up its existing 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. The offer needs approval from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Cabinet and from President Lech Kaczynski.

It’s a hefty and costly contribution for a country of Poland’s size.

“It’s one of the biggest investments in Afghanistan, and in a mission most Poles oppose,” said Marcin Zaborowski of the European Union Institute for Security Studies. “This is a major gesture of solidarity.”

Zaborowski said Poland hopes Washington will consider its help in Afghanistan as a reminder to “respect your friends a little more, especially those friends who can deliver.”