Kabul welcomes US surge

KABUL: Afghanistan Wednesday welcomed President Barack Obama's pledge to commit 30,000 more US troops to the war, as the head of NATO said he was confident Washington's allies would also boost their commitment.

Announcing the surge before young cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, Obama vowed to "seize the initiative" to end the eight-year conflict and start a pullout in July 2011.

He also cranked up pressure on NATO members for more troops, saying they too were threatened by Afghan-based terrorism.

In Kabul, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Faqiri said the government welcomed the new strategy.Related article: Obama announces troop surge

Afghanistan has long called for the deployment of more than the 112,000 NATO and US troops currently deployed to crush a Taliban insurgency at its deadliest and most widespread since US-led troops in 2001 ousted their regime.

Obama's war commander General Stanley McChrystal hailed the new approach, saying it had provided him "with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task".

"The clarity, commitment and resolve outlined in the president?s address are critical steps toward bringing security to Afghanistan and eliminating terrorist safe havens that threaten regional and global security," he said.

Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Kabul who was reportedly opposed to such a massive build-up, vowed to implement the new strategy, which he said he "strongly" supported.

Despite France and Germany already refusing to pledge more troops, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was confident members of the alliance would make a "substantial" increase in their commitments.

"As the US increases its commitment, I am confident that the other allies, as well as our partners in the mission, will also make a substantial increase in their contribution," he said in comments posted on NATO's website.Facts: NATO, US troop numbers

NATO foreign ministers will be meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss Afghanistan, where more than 40 countries have troops.

Britain has already offered an extra 500 and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said they would be accompanied by new forces from at least eight other NATO allies, as well as the United States.

Italy has said it will send an unspecified number, while Poland is considering deploying several hundred more soldiers.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he "provides his full support" for Obama's strategy and called "on all countries which want to help the Afghan people to support it," but said France would wait until an international conference on Afghanistan on January 28 to review its troop contribution.

Sarkozy said France expects to hear at the conference clear commitments from Afghan leaders on a range of issues including taking over responsibility for security, which will allow the international community to review its efforts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would also wait until after the London conference.

"After this conference on Afghanistan, Germany will decide whether or not it will make fresh efforts, and if so, what efforts," Merkel said, adding that security in Afghanistan would not be solved by military means alone.

Germany has around 4,300 troops in northern Afghanistan, the third largest contributor to a 100,000-strong international force after the United States and Britain, whose extra 500 troops will take it past 10,000.

Brown set three conditions for Britain sending extra troops to Afghanistan.

These were that the Afghan government show a commitment to providing police and soldiers who can be trained to engage in combat; that British troops are properly equipped and that other NATO countries also boost force levels.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said after a telephone call from Obama that his country could beef up its contingent of 2,000 troops by several hundred.

"According to President Obama, a bigger engagement (now) could allow for starting to withdraw the forces in 18 to 24 months from now at the latest," Tusk said Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged Monday to send more police trainers and civilian aid experts, saying his country was in it "for the long haul."

But Rudd, who met Obama in Washington this week, did not offer more troops beyond the 1,550 that Australia has already committed.

His Defence Minister John Faulkner said he hoped the increase in US troops would make a "significant difference" on the ground, while reiterating: "We're not planning to send additional troops to Afghanistan".