STRASBOURG, France â European leaders pledged at NATO’s 60th-anniversary summit Saturday to send thousands of soldiers and police to train Afghanistan’s army and secure its coming elections, but they shied far from matching America’s pledge to dispatch a large number of new combat forces.
The alliance risked arousing hostility in the Muslim world by choosing the prime minister of Denmark as secretary-general after overcoming Turkish objections over Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s support of a Danish newspaper’s right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
President Barack Obama heralded what he called “concrete commitments” from NATO allies on Afghanistan, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more military trainers and police was “a strong down payment” toward securing the country.
NATO’s ability to succeed there is seen as a crucial test of the power and relevance of the alliance founded to counterbalance the Soviet Union but now struggling against a rising insurgency far beyond its borders.
“I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for our new strategy,” Obama said at the end of a summit heavily focused on his newly retooled strategy focused on quashing terrorist threats in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
“We’ve started to match real resources to achieve our goals,” he said. He said that noncombat troops in Afghanistan were as important as those directly in harm’s way.
Turkey said Obama was essential to negotiations that overcame its objections to Fogh Rasmussen and ended with all 28 NATO leaders unanimously approving the Danish Prime Minister as the new civilian leader of the alliance.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government’s requests had included the closure of a Kurdish satellite television broadcaster based in Denmark; the establishment of contacts between NATO and Islamic countries; appointment of a Turk as an aide to Fogh Rasmussen and senior NATO command positions for Turkish generals.
“Every head of state and government is fully convinced the Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the best choice for NATO,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, the alliance’s outgoing secretary general.
NATO leaders also launched work on a new strategic concept for the alliance in the future, and said they would seek to overcome differences with Russia.
While the allies tried to project harmony, black-clad protesters attacked police and set a customs station ablaze at a bridge used as the backdrop for a walk by NATO leaders from Germany across the Rhine river to France.
The day started when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama and some two dozen other NATO leaders met French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the halfway point on the Europe bridge in a symbolic departure from the enmity that once tore apart Europe.
Sarkozy and Merkel again stressed their support for the new strategy on Afghanistan that Obama was formally unveiling at the summit. But amid public antipathy to an expansion of Europe’s role in Afghanistan, European leaders remained deeply skeptical about whether more troops can stabilize a country devastated by decades of war.
De Hoop Scheffer said the summit had decided to provide NATO monitoring and liaison teams that would work with Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces, and would also set up a trust fund to sustain the Afghan National Army.
Both Merkel and Sarkozy stressed the need for Afghanistan’s government and security forces to shoulder an increasing share of the burden, leaving NATO as a provider of civilian aid and training for police.
“What we need to do is to understand Afghanistan is a test case for all of us,” Merkel said. “We need to promote Afghanization.”
Obama had asked at the summit’s opening on Friday for support of his new strategy, which has him adding 21,000 U.S. troops to the force of 38,000 struggling against Taliban advances alongside a like number of European, Canadian and non-NATO forces
Obama took a moment to welcome Albania and Croatia to being alliance membership to 28. Obama said he looked forward to the day when Macedonia will join NATO. Macedonia’s accession to NATO has been blocked over a dispute the country has with Greece.
Obama also said that “the door to membership will remain open” for countries that meet NATO standards and can make a meaningful contribution to allied security. He did not specify whether future members could come from the former Soviet Union, which Russia opposes.
Obama and the allies endorsed a return to normal relations with Russia, nine months after Moscow invaded Georgia.
“There is a shared view in NATO that we must cooperate with Russia,” de Hoop Scheffer said. He said differences remained with Russia over Georgia, but the two sides had a common interest in cooperating in areas such as anti-piracy patrols.
“We think this relationship can deliver more than it has up to now,” he said.
And the alliance officially recognized France’s return to full participation on NATO’s military councils, after a 43-year absence.
Looking to the future, the leaders issued a declaration Saturday that formally launches the creation of a new “strategic concept” or road map to define NATO’s roles, missions and way of functioning.
It would be the first such revision of the alliance’s purpose and function since 1999.