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Analysts: NATO, Pakistan Reluctant Allies in US-Led Fight in Afghanistan

The United States is trying to get more help in fighting Islamic militants in Afghanistan, but is running into resistance from reluctant allies. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, insurgents have ratcheted up the pressure on the Afghan government.

Separate recent studies by the Atlantic Council, the Center for the Study of the Presidency, and the International Crisis Group come to same broad conclusion: the international community needs to commit more resources to Afghanistan and agree on a coherent strategy that would make Afghanistan strong enough to stand on its own.

The director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council, James Townsend, says the main burden falls on NATO.

"Our concern is that unless the international community gets better engaged, we are going to be in a situation where we are not going to see any forward progress, and in fact it could slip back. And that is where NATO comes in, and that is where NATO has got to be committed for the long term in terms of providing for that security," he said.

But, despite U.S. prodding, some NATO countries are balking at the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan and taking a more direct combat role. Analysts say some NATO countries are reluctant to put troops in troubled areas of Afghanistan for domestic political reasons. The Bush administration is not popular in some European countries.

Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, says the United States convinced European nations to commit troops to Afghanistan under the assumption that they would be only engaged in peacekeeping, not counterinsurgency.

"It was an inaccurate message for the reason that the U.S. assumed that the fighting part of the battle was ended with the departure of the Taliban. And it did not recognize that it needed to have a much larger footprint, if you will, that enabled the Afghan government to reach all parts of the country with services in a secure environment," he said.

But U.S. officials have been increasingly insistant that NATO countries live up to their troop committments in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Europe Thursday he was disappointed some NATO members have not sent combat troops to Afghanistan, although he said he doesn't think there is a risk of failure.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made a stop in Afghanistan Thursday, recently said the NATO mission will entail risks.

"Our populations need to understand that this is not a peacekeeping mission. This is a counterinsurgency fight, and that's different. The military aspects of this are equally important, the security aspects are equally important, with what to do in reconstruction and in governance," she said.

Pakistani and Afghan Taliban Islamist militia, as well as al-Qaida fighters, have set up bases in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas along the border, where they have sympathy among the local populace. From these sanctuaries they launch attacks on U.S. and NATO forces. They also control swaths of territory in Afghanistan itself, and have even launched suicide attacks in the capital Kabul.

Pakistan has not been as vigorous in cleaning out Islamic militants' sanctuaries along the border as Washington would like. President Pervez Musharraf has insisted he is committed to fighting terrorism, and called on the international community to tone down its criticism.

"We are in the forefront of fighting terrorism and extremism. Our success is critical. We have to win because if we lose, I think it will have an impact on the region and the world, maybe in the streets of Europe. So therefore we have to be together and we have to reinforce each other, encourage each other, support each other, instead of criticizing and insinuating," he said.

But President Musharraf, who is under fire from both secular and religious political forces, has repeatedly differentiated between the Taliban and al-Qaida and on several occasions has sought accommodation with local pro-Taliban tribesman.

Larry Goodson, a professor of international security studies at the U.S. Army War College, expects there will be more Pakistan government attempts to strike peace deals with the Taliban, while going after the foreign fighters of al-Qaida, after the February 18 parliamentary elections.

"I think that after the election we may see some efforts to excise the cancer, if you will, and then deal with your own Pakistani Taliban in a gentler or more nuanced way, the problem being, of course, that all these groups and fellows have all these interconnections and ties on all sorts of levels. That means that realistically you cannot excise the cancer because they are all interconnected," he said.

Wednesday, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban announced a halt in attacks on Pakistani forces. It is not clear if the cease-fire is a unilateral action or the result of talks with the Pakistan government. Both the U.S. and Pakistan have accused the group's leader, Beitullah Masud, of orchestrating the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.