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Germany and France remain non-commital on Afghanistan

Many, but not all, European allies rally behind Obama after his speech.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 2, 2009. The head of NATO said he expects allies to provide at least 5,000 troops for Afghanistan and possibly a few thousand more after President Barack Obama announced a big increase in U.S. forces for the country. (Eric Vidal/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — For months, European allies have said they wanted to hear U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans for Afghanistan before they made any new commitments of troops to the eight-year-old war, now led by NATO. "I think most countries are waiting for the American decisions," Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said in October at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava.

The Europeans were worried about both possible scenarios: If Obama decided to send a significant number of troops as per the request of U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, they knew they would be expected to follow suit. If Obama did not pledge a significant troop increase, the situation would become even worse for the 38,000 non-U.S. troops on the battlefield and the war would, by most assessments, be lost.

But while the U.S. president was taking heat for “dithering” in his decision-making, not everyone in European capitals was using the time to prepare for the two scenarios. Now Obama has announced his plan and, voila, some are still putting off announcing their own plans until after a new deadline: a United Nations-sponsored international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for Jan. 28 in London.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, preceded Obama’s appeal with an offer of 500 more soldiers; with 9,000 already on the ground, the United Kingdom has the second-largest force in Afghanistan after the U.S. On Wednesday, Poland said it would add 600 troops and Italy promised an unspecified increase.

But the third and fourth largest contributors, Germany and France, both said they’re not prepared to boost their commitments before the London conference, which will focus on ways to strengthen Afghanistan’s government and help it to eventually take over its own security.

Reports citing anonymous NATO diplomats circulated in Brussels on Tuesday that said Obama was asking for 10,000 more soldiers from NATO countries and partners such as Georgia and Ukraine, and that he had even asked Paris directly for 1,500 more troops.