By Adrian Croft
EDINBURGH (Reuters) – NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday he was confident the alliance would substantially increase its forces battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing several options for boosting U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan as a debate rages in his administration over whether to persist with a counter-insurgency strategy or whether to narrow it to a counter-terrorism drive against al Qaeda.
“In a few weeks, I expect we will decide, in NATO, on the approach, and troop levels needed, to take our mission forward,” Rasmussen told a meeting of the NATO parliamentary assembly in Edinburgh.
“I’m confident it will be a counter-insurgency approach, with substantially more forces, and we will place the Afghan population at the core of ISAF’s collective effort — by focusing on their safety, and by supporting reconstruction and development,” he said.
Mounting casualties this year in some of the fiercest fighting since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001 has undermined public support for the war in some NATO countries, including Britain.
Rasmussen said he understood people’s concerns. “But people should be reassured that soon there will be new momentum,” he said.
He urged NATO governments to provide more military resources, including extra combat forces for ISAF and more troops to partner with and to train Afghan security forces.
Rasmussen said he was confident NATO could start next year to hand over more security responsibility to Afghan forces, allowing the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gradually to move into a support role.
Obama is considering various options for boosting U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, ranging from dispatching 10,000 to about 40,000 additional troops, according to a U.S. official.
Republicans have criticized Obama for taking so long to announce his decision.
Views in the Obama administration vary with Vice President Joe Biden the leading skeptic of top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation of a troop increase.
Biden favors narrowing the counter-insurgency mission and concentrating more heavily on the counter-terrorism mission of pursuing al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and on the Afghan border.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signaled he would be reluctant to scale back the counter-insurgency campaign.
Nearly 68,000 U.S. and 40,000 allied troops are at present deployed in Afghanistan.
The United States and its allies aim to expand training of Afghan forces so they can take over more security duties.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday Britain had offered to host an international conference early next year to set a timetable for transferring security responsibilities to Afghan forces from 2010.