BRUSSELS, Belgium – NATO's top commander renewed an appeal Friday for allies to urgently provide up to 2,500 troops for the battle with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, but officials said it likely would take two weeks before governments replied.
Gen. James L. Jones told a closed meeting of ambassadors from the 26 NATO allies that Poland's welcome offer of 900 troops in February had not diminished the immediate need for more troops, planes and helicopters, according to officials at NATO headquarters.
Last week, Jones said the reinforcements were needed to pursue the Taliban before the onset of winter enabled them to take refuge in the hills.
Allies have been reluctant to commit forces, as they already are stretched by other international missions and are worried about the risk of high casualties from the tough Taliban resistance.
Diplomats said they expected the call for more troops to feature at a meeting of allied foreign ministers Thursday in New York, but said decisions will likely have to wait until defense ministers gather Sept. 28-29 in Slovenia. They said governments needed time to assess what forces they could make available, to test political support for deployment and to find funding for such a mission. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the closed nature of the meeting.
Although key allies such as Spain, Italy and Turkey have said they would not send combat troops, NATO commanders said they were confident of eventually getting the reinforcements. The delay, however, meant they had less time to be effective before the snows set in.
NATO has about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. Most are engaged in peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in the north and west, but since July about 8,000 troops — mostly from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and United States — have pushed into the Taliban's southern heartland.
They have been surprised by the ferocity of Taliban resistance and have sustained over 30 fatalities. NATO has said, however, that enemy casualties run into hundreds, and Jones told the ambassadors that an ongoing campaign to push the Taliban out of two key districts west of Kandahar was going well.
NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday that the possibility of speeding up the Polish deployment was being negotiated. Diplomats said funding from other allies could help facilitate an earlier deployment, and perhaps encourage other financially strapped eastern European nations to participate.
Canadian news reports earlier this week said Ottawa was readying 15 tanks and 120 more troops to reinforce their contingent in Kandahar.
Denmark's Defense Minister Soeren Gade said his country may send special forces to Afghanistan to support a separate U.S.-led counterterrorism operation in eastern Afghanistan. Denmark already has about 300 soldiers in southern Afghanistan with the NATO force.
Norway's Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide also said his country's government is discussing whether to send more troops, but would not try to guess the outcome. He said no troops would be sent immediately. Norway's three-party coalition government is split on the issue.