Strasbourg, France President Barack Obama hailed “strong and unanimous support” from NATO allies on Saturday for his stepped-up anti-terror strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and welcomed their “down payment” promises of 5,000 fresh forces.
The allies rebuffed U.S. appeals for more combat forces to join the war, but the backing Obama did gain at a European summit allowed him to claim an early victory on the world’s foreign policy stage.
NATO allies agreed to send up to 5,000 more military trainers and police to Afghanistan, including forces to help protect candidates and voters at upcoming elections.
Obama called that “a strong down payment” on both Afghanistan and NATO itself at the end of a gathering celebrating the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
He waved off questions on whether the size and makeup of the commitments were disappointing in light of an anti-terrorism struggle he himself portrayed as daunting. Since becoming president, Obama has begun switching America’s anti-terror emphasis to fighting al-Qaida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area as the war in Iraq winds down.
The new president insisted that “terrorists threaten every member of NATO,” but he also said he had no intention of trying to dictate to European countries the scope of their contributions.
“This was not a pledging conference,” he told a wrap-up news briefing packed with both American and foreign journalists. “We came expecting consensus and we’re gratified getting that consensus.”
He said more help of all kinds will be needed. But he also said, “I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for our new strategy.”
Among countries resisting U.S. appeals for more combat troops were France, which on Saturday rejoined the alliance as a full military partner after decades of being a nonmilitary member, and Germany.
Obama weighed in on a controversial new law in Afghanistan, his remarks underscoring his administration’s shift away from a U.S. focus on building democracy in the country.
Asked about the law, which a United Nations agency says makes it legal for men to rape their wives, Obama called it “abhorrent.” He also noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the law will be studied and possibly sent back to parliament for review — and that the NATO conference’s closing statement specifically states that human rights should be respected.
Obama left the summit for Prague, where he will meet with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, and give a speech expected to focus on weapons proliferation.
New NATO leader
Also Saturday, NATO leaders appointed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO’s new secretary-general after overcoming Turkish objections to a leader who angered Muslims around the world by supporting the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad.
NATO’s outgoing head, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said NATO’s 28 member nations reached unanimity after a series of Turkish “concerns” were addressed at the alliance’s two-day, 60th-anniversary summit.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that his government’s requests had included the closure of a Kurdish satellite television broadcaster based in Denmark; the establishment of contacts between NATO and Islamic countries; appointment of a Turk as an aide to Fogh Rasmussen and senior NATO command positions for Turkish generals.