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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley May 19, 2008

Government report backs up Obama

During the Q&A; portion of a town hall meeting in Cape Girardeau, Miss., on May 13, 2008, Sen. Barack Obama talked about the need to focus on and provide more troops in Afghanistan.

"If we're going to catch (Osama) bin Laden, or most importantly, break down al-Qaida ... we've got to have the capacity to put more troops in Afghanistan ... both our troops and NATO troops.

"Right now, we don't have enough troops and NATO hasn't provided enough troops because they are still angry about us going into Iraq."

With the addition of some 7,500 Marines in Afghanistan in early 2008, there are now about 32,500 American troops in Afghanistan; plus an additional 28,000 NATO troops.

Late in 2007, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made several public, but largely fruitless, pleas to NATO countries for the commitment of more troops in Afghanistan.

A Congressional Research Service report for Congress, submitted Jan. 7, 2008, states that Gates "acknowledged that domestic political problems are preventing some allies from increasing their force levels in Afghanistan. Allied government officials state privately that their populations are reluctant to follow the Bush Administration, largely due to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent criticism of the United States in Europe and the Middle East."

Later, the report cites a "highly respected" German Marshall Fund poll that found a sharp decline in European public opinion toward U.S. leadership due to the U.S. policy in the Iraq war.

The report concludes that, "This decline is complicating the effort of allied governments to sustain support for the ... mission" in Afghanistan.

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Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor of International Relations at Georgetown University, said there is some truth in Obama's statement.

"The Iraq war has soured many European electorates on U.S. foreign policy," Kupchan said. "Even though there was a groundswell of support for the war in Afghanistan, there is a certain amount of skittishness about Bush and his foreign policy."

That creates a situation where the United States is finding it more difficult to garner support for more NATO troops. But that's not the only reason, he said. There is a widespread belief that the United States has not balanced the use of force in Iraq with reconstruction and assistance.

There is a feeling, he said, that the United States has "overmilitarized" the Iraq war, Kupchan said, that there are too many civilian casualties, "that we are dropping too many bombs and not winning over as many hearts and minds."

Many NATO countries also are uncomfortable with involvement in a war thousands of miles away. "I think it (Obama's comment) is fair as long as one realizes that's one of several factors when looking at the shortfall of NATO contributions," Kupchan said. "It is one of several issues in play."

The British House of Commons' Defence Committee, in a report on British operations in Afghanistan, warned last summer that troop shortages in Afghanistan threatened to undermine the campaign, and that the size of NATO forces should be considerably greater.

So Obama is on solid footing when he says more troops are needed in Afghanistan. In a Pentagon news briefing in July 2007, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said as much, calling the international military mission "under-resourced."

And even a U.S. government report concluded that European criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq has made some NATO countries less willing to commit troops to Afghanistan. While some NATO experts say that is not the only reason, they agree it is a big one. We rate Obama's statement True.

Our Sources

Reuters, "U.S. considers 3,000 more troops for Afghanistan" by Andrew Gray, Jan. 10, 2008

New York Times, "Military Leaders Seek 3,000 More Troops for Afghanistan" by Thom Shanker, Jan. 10, 2008

Times Online, "Thousands more troops needed to bring peace to Afghanistan, say MPs" by Michael Evans, July 18, 2007

Congressional Research Service, "NATO in Afghanistan: A test of the Transatlantic Alliance" by Paul Gallis, Jan. 7, 2008

New York Times, "Condoleezza Rice Visits Afghanistan" by Helene Cooper and Nicholas Kulish, Feb. 7, 2008

International Herald Tribune, "Amid escalating violence in Afghanistan, rising opposition in Germany to military mission" by Judy Dempsey, Aug. 19, 2007

World Politics Review, "European Ambivalence Threatens NATO Afghanistan Mission" by Frida Ghitis, Oct. 29, 2007

Interview with Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, May, 16, 2008

Interview with Max Bergmann is Deputy Policy Director at the National Security Network, May 16, 2008

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