The United States and its NATO allies agree that stabilizing Afghanistan so it can never again be used as a launching pad for international terrorism is a top priority.
"Instability in an already highly unstable region, a safe haven for international terrorism and massive suffering for the Afghan people [are] simply too much to accept, which is why we'll see all members of the team, Afghan and international, pull harder in 2009," said NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer at a recent, informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow, Poland. "We cannot afford the price of failure."
The allies' willingness to significantly increase their contributions is a reflection of their deep commitment to the international effort in Afghanistan, said U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:
"There have been some commitments made on both the civilian and the military side, over the last couple of days, about 19 or 20 countries announced at one point or another in the meetings that they would be increasing their contribution either on the civilian or the military training side, so I consider that a good start."
On February 17th, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of approximately 17,000 additional U.S. soldiers and marines to deploy to Afghanistan. A Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and an Army Stryker Brigade will deploy by summer 2009 to reinforce the International Security Assistance Force, which currently stands at approximately 56,000 troops. An additional 5,000 U.S. troops will receive orders to deploy to Afghanistan at a later date.
But economic and reconstruction aid is just as important, said Secretary Gates, adding that contributions on the stability side and on the governance and development side are welcome. At the Krakow conference, the NATO allies agreed to send more funding, aircraft, medical personnel, 15 additional teams to train Afghan security forces and trainers to support a rapidly expanding Afghan army. Some members pledged to help support humanitarian reconstruction efforts by sending reconstruction teams, police trainers, and civilian experts to help strengthen Afghan governance, confront corruption, and deliver essential services to Afghan citizens.
The U.S. believes that neighboring states also have a responsibility to help. "Afghanistan is extremely important, not only for the United States, but for the countries that border Afghanistan," said U.S. Department of State acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid. "It needs to be a secure nation. It needs to be a stable nation. That is as important to the neighboring countries as it is to the United States."