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REACTION: THE ALLIES

NATO nations nod along with Obama's speech but may not meet his request for more troops.

December 02, 2009

Though generally welcoming the promised buildup of American troops to Afghanistan, Europe is likely to present President Obama with a mixed bag of responses to his request that allies step up their own deployments.

Some European leaders say that their countries are already stretched to the limit militarily and that growing public opposition to the war severely restricts their options.

In France, headlines trumpeted President Nicolas Sarkozy's "flat refusal" to meet a reported request for 1,500 more soldiers.

Germany remains ambivalent about sending more forces because of souring domestic opinion over the war and public criticism of a German-ordered NATO airstrike in September that killed more than 100 insurgents and Afghan civilians.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently reelected at the head of a new center-right government, may yet agree to ramp up Germany's commitment, analysts say. But she is likely to wait until after an international conference on Afghanistan in January.

The news is not all bad for the White House: At least eight countries are willing to strengthen their deployments, among them Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland, news reports say. But the combined pledges may not make up the difference between Obama's commitment of additional U.S. forces and the 40,000 troops that Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, says are needed.

After the U.S., Britain has the biggest presence in Afghanistan, about 9,000 troops. Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Monday that he would send 500 more in the next couple of weeks.

Even though the allies' total increase may not meet Obama's hopes, Malcolm Chalmers, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank in London, warned against division within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"It would be a mistake," he said, "for the U.S. or, for that matter, the Brits, to beat up on their allies."

-- Henry Chu henry.chu@latimes.com

Chu reported from Copenhagen. Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London and special correspondent Devorah Lauter in Paris contributed to this report.

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