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Hillary Clinton praises Nato allies' Afghanistan pledge

Hillary Clinton: "This is a crucial test for Nato"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has welcomed a pledge by Nato allies to send at least 7,000 extra troops to support the US surge in Afghanistan.

She said beating the Taliban insurgency there was a "crucial test" for Nato.

She spoke in Brussels after talks with Nato foreign ministers and other partners with forces in Afghanistan.

Nato's top official, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said at least 25 countries had promised more forces in 2010, providing at least 7,000 more troops.

He suggested there would be "more [troops] to come" over and above that number once other nations had reached decisions on deployments.

The US has called on allies among the 43 nations with troops in Afghanistan to send about 10,000 extra soldiers.

Some major countries are holding back, however. France and Germany, for instance, have not yet committed themselves to sending extra troops.

'Lives and treasure'

Mrs Clinton welcomed what she described as a "significant commitment" by Nato allies, saying she was extremely heartened by their positive response.

AFGHANISTAN SURGE
US calling for about 10,000 extra foreign troops
Nato expects 7,000 troops from 25 of 43 nations in Afghanistan
Not all have gone public with their intentions
Britain has pledged extra 500; Italy "about 1,000"; Poland 600; Portugal 150; Spain 200; Slovakia 250; Macedonia 80
Non-Nato member Georgia sending 900, South Korea 500
France still considering response; Germany may delay decision until January 2010

"This is a crucial test for NATO, which has been the greatest and most successful military alliance in history," she said.

"It is crucial that we remain firm in our resolve and see this mission through."

She also acknowledged the sacrifices made by Nato allies "in lives and treasure", as they promised military forces and civilian resources to back the new US Afghan strategy.

Earlier this week, US President Barack Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to help battle the Taliban insurgency.

Speaking earlier in the day Mrs Clinton had said the need for additional forces was "urgent, but their presence will not be indefinite".

President Obama's top national security adviser, Gen James Jones, has been trying to clear up some confusion about the exit strategy
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

However, she stressed that the US would continue to provide civilian assistance to Afghanistan long after the military mission ended, saying the US and its allies had an "enduring commitment" to the region.

Speaking to the BBC in Washington, US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones echoed that message, saying the US did not intend to withdraw fully from Afghanistan in 2011 - the date set by Mr Obama for troops to start pulling out - and leave Afghans to their fate.

He said: "It's very important that people in Afghanistan hear this very clearly, this is not a withdrawal of the United States in Afghanistan in 2011.

"It is a decision to turn over to the Afghans some of the responsibility when they are ready to accept that responsibility, and in no manner, shape and form is the [United] States leaving Afghanistan in 2011."

Rasmussen: 'We can succeed'

Earlier, Mr Rasmussen told delegates at Nato HQ that the coming year would "see a new momentum in this mission".

The BBC's Nick Childs, in Brussels, says the main thrust of Mr Rasmussen's speech was to insist on a message of solidarity, despite the challenges, and of unity behind the mission.

"In addition to the clear pledges already tabled, we have heard indications... that other allies and partners will probably be in a position to announce contributions in the coming weeks and months," Mr Rasmussen said.

"Isaf [International Security Assistance Force] will have at least 37,000 more soldiers in 2010 than it did this year. That is solidarity in action."

Warning for Kabul

But many Nato governments face publics even more sceptical about the mission than those of the US and Britain.

Italian soldier in Herat, west of Kabul, 3 Dec 2009
Italy has promised to send about 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan

Even if more public announcements are forthcoming, turning these into firm pledges of the right troops at the right time and for the right missions may take longer, our correspondent adds.

Mr Rasmussen said several countries had pledged additional funds for development assistance as part of the mission's new approach in providing basic services to benefit the local people in Afghanistan.

But he warned that Kabul had to play its part in the reconstruction process.

Meanwhile more than 1,000 Nato soldiers, most of them from the US, as well as Afghan troops, launched a major offensive in southern Afghanistan on Friday.

A US military spokesman said Operation Cobra's Anger in the northern part of Helmand province was aimed at cutting off insurgent supply and communication lines.



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