Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, September 29, 2006

David Rennie, "Europe must not turn coward in Afghanistan, says US envoy," Telegraph, September 29, 2006.

The American ambassador to Kabul has accused European members of Nato of jeopardising the future of the alliance by refusing to send troops to Afghanistan, or banning their forces from entering areas with heavy fighting.

Ronald Neumann, who has survived two attempts on his life this year, said European nations must not turn "coward" and "run away" from fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

Nato's expansion into the east of Afghanistan will place British officer Lt Gen David Richards in command of many US troops.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Neumann said some Europeans "obviously resist the idea that you have an army in order to fight. And I have very little patience for that".

The ambassador spoke as defence ministers from the 26-nation Nato alliance came under unprecedented pressure at a meeting in Slovenia to provide more troops to the multi-national force trying to prop up the authority of the Afghan government amid a resurgence of Taliban activity.

Last night the ministers agreed a major expansion of Nato's mission into the volatile east of Afghanistan — but their agreement owed nothing to European willingness to offer more troops. Instead, ministers simply agreed to place some 12,000 mostly US forces, already in the region, under Nato command.

The move will place US troops in eastern Afghanistan under the command of a British officer, Lt Gen David Richards — the largest number to be under foreign command since the Second World War.

In Germany the lower house of parliament voted by a large margin to extend the peacekeeping mandate of the 2,750 German troops serving with Nato for a further year.

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told the Bundestag that Nato had no choice but to stay. "Afghanistan is only lost if we give it up," he said.

Des Browne, Britain's Defence Secretary, praised Poland for rushing forward the deployment of 900 troops to Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), but said he would be urging other nations to think about doing more.

"Allies must step up to the plate to meet our collective commitment to support the government and people of Afghanistan," he said.

However, even as Mr Browne headed for Slovenia, Spanish officials briefed the Madrid press that their government — in conjunction with France, Germany and Belgium — had seen off a request from the military commander of Nato, Gen James Jones, to mobilise ground forces from the "Eurocorps" — a rapid reaction force made up of troops from several European nations.

Spanish sources told El Pais newspaper that the four European nations had told Gen Jones the rapid reaction force was for unforeseen emergencies, and not for propping up an existing mission.

Spain's Socialist government also refused to send more troops, or to move any of its 750 armed forces now in western Afghanistan to the south, where British, Canadian and Dutch forces have been pounded by enemy attacks.

Mr Neumann criticised the "caveats" placed on forces from Germany, Norway, Belgium and other nations — variously keeping them away from the south, away from heavy combat zones, or forbidding them from going out at night.

He said: "If you can't fight in the place that produced al-Qa'eda and September 11 and a series of terrorist attacks in Europe, what is the point?"

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