NATO says its counter-offensive against the Taleban has achieved most of its objectives in Afghanistan. But in talks Wednesday NATO countries did not reach agreement on committing more troops to the fight against the resurgent Taleban.
Speaking after a meeting of NATO generals in southern Belgium, spokesman James Appathurai said no formal offer of additional troops was made during the conference, and that there are already sufficient forces in Afghanistan to wrap up the current offensive against the Taleban.
But Appathurai said there were what he termed "positive indications" that some countries might consider contributing more forces at some point.
In remarks in London Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said British troops, who are bearing the brunt of the battle in southern Afghanistan, need help from Europe.
"This British commitment in Afghanistan is important. They are inflicting real damage on the Taleban and al-Qaida," he said. "But it is important that the whole of NATO regards this as their responsibility."
NATO has gradually taken over counter-insurgency responsibilities in the Taleban heartland of southern Afghanistan, with British, Canadian, and Dutch troops making up the bulk of the NATO force. But they have been taken aback by the ferocity and resilience of the Taleban's resistance.
More than 30 NATO soldiers and hundreds of militants have been killed in recent clashes. NATO says 173 people, most of them civilians, have been killed this year in suicide bombings, which are a comparatively new practice in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Afghanistan risks becoming a "failed state" if efforts to stamp out the Taleban and fortify the Afghan government falter.
There are currently about 18,500 NATO troops in Afghanistan, and about the same number of U.S. forces.
U.S. and British officials have asked that NATO nations contribute up to 2,500 more troops to the Afghan fight. Last week, General James Jones, NATO's top operational commander, said the current force is about 15 percent under strength.
But some NATO countries claim that military or peacekeeping commitments elsewhere have left them unable to contribute more forces.
Mike Gapes, chairman of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, says some European nations are afraid to put their troops in harm's way.
"Unfortunately, some of our European partners, for political reasons, have got a policy of basically not deploying troops into areas where they might get into a conflict in terms of harm," he said. "And I think that is very, very short-sighted and it is potentially long-term dangerous to all of us."
In the aftermath of the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, a U.S.-led coalition force dealt with counter-insurgency while foreign troops, under the umbrella of the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force, mostly confined their activities to peacekeeping in the country's capital, Kabul. In July, NATO took over direct responsibility for security operations in the troubled south.
With no commitment for more troops emerging from the Brussels meeting, the issue may have to wait for resolution until a meeting of NATO defense ministers later this month.