U.S. lawmakers are calling on NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize the country. Their calls come in the wake of a suicide attack near the Afghan capital, Kabul, which killed one Canadian peacekeeper and wounded several others.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, is urging NATO to make good on its commitment to expand its presence in Afghanistan.
Although the alliance last year decided to expand the 5,500 member International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, beyond Kabul, most of the troops remain in the capital.
Mr. Lugar said ISAF deployments and missions have been delayed or downsized by staffing and equipment shortages.
The Republican chairman's call to expand the force was echoed by his Democratic colleague on the committee, Senator Barbara Boxer of California. "More troops will accelerate the outcome. I think that is a fact no one can deny," she said.
The Senators argued that an expanded NATO presence would not only help bring more stability and security to Afghanistan, it would also demonstrate the alliance has an important role to play beyond its borders. Senator Lugar said, "on the ground NATO must be successful. This is the archetype case whether we can move beyond hunkering down around the borders of constituent members and move out into the world."
General James Jones, the top U.S. commander in Europe, agreed, but suggested he is not optimistic about the prospects of NATO making good on its commitment. He said, as he put it, there has been 'some difficulty in generating the military forces that support the political level of ambition.'
General Jones said more focus should be given to training an Afghan army, and allowing it to have an expanded role in securing the country. "One of the key elements that will allow us to be successful in bringing more stability to Afghanistan is of course teaching the new Afghan army that it has to take on an increasing role in this context," he said.
Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, expressed concern that the 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan may not be enough, and that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan may have been eroded by the U.S. involvement in Iraq. "It sometimes appears that we are pursuing a piecemeal approach to bolstering stability and the rule of law throughout the country, and I am sometimes concerned whether we are setting our goals good enough to mask the real gaps between the resources and the needs," he said.
State Department Coordinator for Afghanistan William Taylor sought to put such concerns to rest, saying the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is long-term. "We will be there in various forms, in Afghanistan, until there is an end-state, not an end-date, but an end-state that meets our national security needs. We are looking for an Afghanistan that is market-oriented, democratically-inclined, that has a stable government, that is able to control its borders as well as its interior," he said.
He did not say how long the United States would be involved in Afghanistan.