US Blames Europe For Failures in Afghanistan | Current Affairs | DW | 30.09.2004
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Current Affairs

US Blames Europe For Failures in Afghanistan

With the clock ticking on crucial presidential polls in Afghanistan next month, the US Congress has blasted European nations for not sending enough troops to bolster security in the volatile country.

Security remains the biggest concern ahead of Afghan elections

Security remains the biggest concern ahead of Afghan elections

With just about ten days to go before millions of Afghans vote in the country's first direct presidential ballot, the US Congress on Wednesday slammed European nations for not fulfilling promises to reinforce NATO-led troops in the country to beef up security.

Tom Lantos, a Democratic representative from the San Francisco area, attacked "the freeloading and sheer hypocrisy of some of our European allies," calling the NATO contingent in Afghanistan "pitifully" small. The comments came during a hearing in the US House of Representatives in the run-up to the October 9 Afghan elections.

"Where is the administration's outrage over the fact that NATO and key allies in the Middle East have not only refused to help in Iraq, which is a controversial and separate issue, but turned their backs on Afghanistan as well," Lantos asked. He added that President Bush's administration "must be prepared to publicly condemn them for their failure to act."

NATO commitment questioned

The criticism comes on the heels of NATO's announcement that it would complete expanding its forces in Afghanistan this week to meet its commitment for supporting the election. There are currently around 8,000 NATO-led peacekeepers based mainly in Kabul.

The reinforcements -- mostly Spanish and Italian troops -- would bring to around 9,000 the number of troops deployed with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which NATO has run since last year.

But the military alliance's commitment in Afghanistan has been thrown in question after much dithering over the need to boost its presence in the country. Additional reinforcements were finally decided after much wrangling at NATO's Istanbul summit in June.

Several European members are believed to be wary of sending troops to the country, which many view as hopelessly lawless and not high enough on their list of priorities.

Security the main worry

On Wednesday another Democrat representative, Shelley Berkley from Nevada, found fault with NATO's delay on expanding its presence in Afghanistan.

Berkley insisted the US should ensure that European countries as well as Egypt and Turkey carry "their fair share load in Afghanistan." She added, "And if they're not going to provide troops, the least they could do is provide money, of which they're not doing either."

Berkley's comments however seem to have overlooked the massive aid packages promised by European countries during the Afghan donor conference in Berlin in April this year. At the time Germany, which has traditionally provided the most financial aid to Afghanistan among European countries, pledged €320 million over the next four years. Italy offered more than €140 million over the next three years. The European Union has pledged €700 million ($852 million) for this year.

But there remains little doubt that security has been the major concern in the run-up to the Afghan elections. Near-daily attacks, blamed on remnants of the Taliban and entrenched warlords, have prompted many of the 18 candidates contesting the polls to call for the election to be postponed. Over 1,000 people have died in militant-related attacks since August last year. In the latest incidence of violence, two German soldiers stationed in Kunduz were injured in a grenade attack on their camp on Wednesday.

US allies "fail the moral test"

Lantos said the Europeans owed it to the US to meet commitments in Afghanistan given the fact that the US had protected their continent from the Soviets for two generations.

"We had hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe protecting Europe. We succeeded, in large measure, in making Europe prosperous. And Europe has simply opted out, with the exception of Britain and a few others, from their global responsibilities," Lantos said.

Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, lamented the that Europe was not more thankful. "Notwithstanding all the things that our nation was responsible for, historically, I don't think gratitude travels."

Lantos argued that US allies such as France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey, and friendly countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt "have failed the moral test" in sustaining the fledgling democracy in Afghanistan "in its time of desperate need."

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