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Germany and France remain non-commital on Afghanistan

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

But in a Wednesday morning press conference at NATO headquarters, when Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he could “confirm that the allies, and our partners, will do more, substantially more,” his tally was 5,000 soldiers. Rasmussen said, though with less conviction, that he also expected “probably a few thousand on top of that.”

Rasmussen seems to have taken over the Pentagon’s role of cajoling/harassing/imploring NATO governments for more resources. (Not coincidentally, one of the reasons Washington had strongly backed Rasmussen to take over as NATO chief when the post was vacated by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in the summer was his firm support as Danish Prime Minister for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Echoing a theme in Obama’s speech, Rasmussen said the boost is in allies’ own interests. “What is happening in Afghanistan poses a clear and present danger to the citizens in all our countries,” he said, “terrorism that could strike our streets, our airports, our metros. Extremism that inspires violence across the world. Drugs that end up in our schools and back alleys, and that kill 100,000 people every year. Instability in Afghanistan means insecurity for all of us.”

Beyond that, he argued that Obama deserves the allies' support. “The U.S. has pursued a multilateral approach to this operation. We must now demonstrate that multilateralism delivers concrete results.”

But complicating Rasmussen’s drive is the fact that two important sources of troops — Canada and the Netherlands — have announced they will end their Afghan missions. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon on Wednesday reconfirmed plans to have Canadian soldiers home by the end of 2011. The Dutch government has said it will pull its troops out next year, though that remains a subject of internal debate.

Asked about the unilateral withdrawals, Rasmussen said he hoped those governments would review their plans in light of the American buildup. “I hope all allies will take into consideration how important it is that we keep this as an alliance mission,” he said. “This is our fight, together. We must finish it together.”

And Washington has already deployed some backup for Rasmussen in these arguments. Within 12 hours of the Obama speech, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was holding meetings at European Union headquarters. Holbrooke said he was “immensely gratified that every participant on the meeting expressed strong support for what the president said last night.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying about the Afghanistan plan on Capitol Hill Wednesday, will arrive in Brussels early Friday morning to speak to her fellow foreign ministers about U.S. expectations and what they can do to help fulfill them.