By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 24, 2009 - Should President Barack Obama's anticipated Afghanistan strategy announcement call for more U.S. troops, Defense Department and White House officials would expect a greater contribution from their NATO allies, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. Obama held his ninth and final meeting yesterday with his Afghanistan war council, which includes Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and said today he will make his decision public soon after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
"Clearly, if the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces," Morrell told reporters during a Pentagon news conference.
Officials also expect that many U.S. allies won't revisit their Afghan strategies until after Obama's announcement, he said, adding that Washington has been "trying to consult" with other troop-contributing nations about Obama's plans. Ultimately, the NATO partners will be informed of U.S. intentions following Obama's official announcement, Morrell added, but he suggested that other countries' decisions likely don't depend on the U.S. strategy.
Rather, he said, European nations will determine their future in Afghanistan following conferences among themselves in December and January. As of now, the United States has not been invited to those meetings, he said.
"I think it would be reasonable to assume that [other nations] have to do their own determination about what they can do, as we are doing what we're doing," he explained. "But I don't think there's any expectation, on the heels of whatever it is the president announces, that all of a sudden you're going to have nations standing up in succession behind him."
Even with the possibility of additional U.S. forces being ordered to Afghanistan, U.S. officials still consider the endeavor there a NATO-led effort, Morrell said.
Morrell added that past NATO contributions haven't gone unnoticed or unfelt by Washington. He pointed out that roughly 68,000 U.S. troops and 45,000 NATO military members are serving in Afghanistan. NATO has been very forthcoming with support for the overall mission there, an effort that often gets overlooked, he said.
"As we've plussed up, NATO has plussed up" over the last three years, Morrell said. "Some may take issue at the kinds of forces or the caveats that come with [NATO forces' participation] and things of that nature, but the bottom line is there is no denying that NATO has ponied up significant numbers of additional forces as we have added forces over the last several years."
Morrell also pointed to NATO nations' roles in northern and western Afghanistan, noting their efforts have allowed U.S. troops to stay focused in the hostile southern and eastern provinces.
"That is something that cannot be discounted," he said. "If we can get more [NATO troops], that would help us ... to sort of focus much more of our efforts in the south, which seems to be the hotbed of Taliban activity. But if indeed we add more forces, it would be expected that our allies would find a way to do the same. And I'm sure appropriate conversations would be had with [NATO nations] about what they can do and when they can do it."
Gates is having his weekly meeting with Obama this afternoon, but plans to leave Washington tomorrow for the Thanksgiving holiday and return Nov. 30, Morrell said. The secretary believes the past three months of review have been "thorough and comprehensive," and he expects that Obama has made his final decision, Morrell said.
"[The Afghan strategy review] has been a very thorough and comprehensive review, and one that has resulted in everyone involved coming away with a much better understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and the challenges we face there," he said. "So I think [Gates] feels as though it's been a very worthwhile process. And he, like you, now waits for a decision."