By: Lorne Cook and Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press,
BRUSSELS — Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO has agreed to send more troops to help train and work alongside Afghan security forces.
The move comes in response to a request from NATO commanders who say they need as many as 3,000 additional troops from the allies. That number does not include an expected contribution of roughly 4,000 American forces. They would be divided between the NATO training and advising the mission in Afghanistan, and America's counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday that 15 countries "have already pledged additional contributions." He expected more commitments to come.
Britain has said that it would contribute just under 100 troops in a noncombat role.
"We're in it for the long haul. It's a democracy. It's asked for our help and it's important that Europe responds," British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters. "Transnational terror groups operate in Afghanistan, are a threat to us in Western Europe."
European nations and Canada have been waiting to hear what U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will offer or seek from them. U.S. leaders have so far refused to publicly discuss troop numbers before completing a broader, updated war strategy.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan this week, meeting with commanders to gather details on what specific military capabilities they need to end what American officials say is a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.
The expected deployment of more Americans is intended to bolster Afghan forces so they eventually can assume greater control of security.
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, second left, speaks with German Defense Minister Ursuala von der Leyen, left, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, speaks with U.S. Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, June 29, 2017. NATO defense ministers met Thursday to discuss, among other issues, the situation in Afghanistan and defense spending. Photo Credit: Virginia Mayo/AP
Stoltenberg said the NATO increase does not mean the alliance will once again engage in combat operations against the Taliban and extremist groups. NATO wants "to help the Afghans fight" and take "full responsibility" for safeguarding the country.
He did acknowledge "there are many problems, and many challenges and many difficulties, and still uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan."
Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's defense ministry, welcomed NATO's decision and said Afghan troops were in need of "expert" training, heavy artillery and a quality air force.
"We are on the front line in the fight against terrorism," Radmanish said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
But Afghan lawmaker Mohammad Zekria Sawda was skeptical. He said the offer of an additional 3,000 NATO troops was a "show," and that NATO and the U.S. were unable to bring peace to Afghanistan when they had more than 120,000 soldiers deployed against Taliban insurgents.
"Every day we are feeling more worry," he said, "If they were really determined to bring peace they could do it," Sawda said.
As the war drags on, Afghans have become increasingly disillusioned and even former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has questioned the international commitment to bringing peace.
Many Afghans, including Karzai, are convinced that the United States and NATO have the military ability to defeat the Taliban. But with the war raging 16 years after the Taliban were ousted, they accuse the West of seemingly wanting chaos over peace.
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