HLUBOKA, Czech Republic – America's European allies pledged Friday to send more police trainers and cash to Afghanistan, but shied away from deploying more troops on a long-term basis in response to a renewed U.S. push to end the war.
Meeting at a medieval Czech castle, European Union foreign ministers discussed ways to train Afghan security forces more quickly and effectively while keeping the 27-nation bloc's focus on rebuilding the battered country.
U.S. forces account for more than half of the estimated 65,000 international troops in the country, and President Barack Obama ordered 4,000 more U.S. combat troops there Friday.
"Europe should do more," said Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister.
Frattini said Italy was ready to send Carabinieri officers to train Afghan police, and to deploy up to 250 troops. But those forces would stay only for a few months to help secure the country ahead of summer presidential elections.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU presidency, said leaders would discuss specifics with Obama at next week's NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.
"The bulk of what is expected (by the U.S.) is in the civilian area," he said.
The EU plans to more than double its contingent of police trainers to 400 this summer.
Despite years of EU training, the Afghan police have been widely criticized as ineffectual. Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, described the national force last week as "riddled with corruption."
Although European officials said it was unlikely they would significantly bolster their military presence in Afghanistan, they were sharpening their focus on Pakistan — part of a shift toward a more regional approach.
Rising violence there is fueling doubts that Pakistan's pro-Western government can counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants who are also blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.
At a conference in Moscow on Friday, Russia and Iran said Afghanistan's neighbors should play a stronger role in helping the country solve its problems and slow the spread of drugs and terrorism throughout the region.
"Afghanistan and the region need new ideas. The people are fed up — the killing of the innocents," said Mohammed Mehdi Ahundzadeh, Iran's deputy foreign minister. "We need to have a solution where regional countries should play the main role in addressing the problems of Afghanistan and mitigating the suffering of the people."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters the key was to strike "the right balance between military and civilian missions." He added that he was "pleased that Pakistan is rising on the EU agenda."
And NATO said Friday it expects to hold more talks with Iran about cooperating in the war in Afghanistan.
"The Iranians have problems with drugs and refugees flowing out of Afghanistan," said James Appathurai, a spokesman for the Western military alliance. "The Iranians have an interest in stability in Afghanistan, and so do we."
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU planned to announce more financial aid at a U.N. conference on Afghanistan next week in The Hague, Netherlands. She did not elaborate.
Since 2002, the EU has given about $1.7 billion to Afghanistan.