United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide addresses a news conference during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, Oct. 23, 2009. The top UN envoy to Afghanistan on Friday urged NATO members to send more troops to help stabilize Afghanistan. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)
BRATISLAVA, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan on Friday urged NATO defense ministers to send more troops to help stabilize the country, insisting European nations must join the United States in any troop surge.
"This cannot be a U.S. only enterprise," said UN Special Representative Kai Eide. "There has to be contributions from other contributors and in particular Europeans."
Eide spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO defense ministers, who were discussing proposals by the alliance's top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal for an injection of tens of thousands of fresh troops to bolster NATO's current force of 71,400.
McChrystal was briefing the ministers on his plans, which were submitted to allied capitals in late August.
United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide addresses a news conference during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, Oct. 23, 2009. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)
However, officials said no conclusions on additional troops were likely at the ministers' two-day meeting in the Slovak capital which was due to wrap up Friday.
NATO nations are waiting for a decision from the United States, which will have to provide the vast bulk of the reinforcements, given the wariness of European allies of committing more troops to a conflict which is increasingly unpopular with public opinion in their countries.
The Obama administration is still deliberating on options for boosting the Afghan mission, which is confronted with an upsurge in violence by the Taliban insurgents.
Influential voices in Washington, led by Vice President Joe Biden, are wary of throwing large numbers of extra troops into the conflict and would prefer to keep force levels more-or-less as they are while focusing the mission more on targeting Al-Qaida hideouts in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions.
U.S. officials say President Barack Obama is likely to wait until after a second round of presidential elections in Afghanistan on Nov. 7 before making his decision on the troops numbers and adjustments to the military strategy.
Widespread fraud allegations in the first-round vote on Aug. 30 led to a third of votes for standing Afghan President Hamid Karzai being discounted, forcing him into a head-to-head run-off vote against his closest rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Obama has been unwilling to commit fresh troops until the political uncertainty is resolved and many European allies have faced pressure from critics who say their troops should not be sent to fight and die for a government that has failed to tackle corruption and was re-elected in a fraudulent vote.
"We have to make sure the new government in Afghanistan is committed to their job before we send any more troops to Afghanistan," said Danish Defense Minister Soeren Gade.
Eide said he was confident that voting fraud could be minimized in the second round.
"It should be easier in some respects," he said, "It's not possible to eliminate fraud ... but we hope to reduce it."
The UN has fired election workers linked to fraud and will be stepping up monitoring procedures. Eide urged the European Union to agree quickly to send election observers. He said preparations for the elections were on track.
While declining to be drawn on numbers, he said it was imperative that more troops be sent to improve security and to train the Afghan Security Forces.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also called on allies to step up the training effort so that Afghan forces can start to take over from the international troops.
While acknowledging it was too early for a decision on troop numbers, he said ministers should give a broad endorsement of McChystal's approach of refocusing the mission to provide greater protection to civilians, boosting development and winning over hearts of minds of Afghans who may otherwise be tempted to back the Taliban.
The Afghan army is currently 94,000 strong with a target of reaching 134,000 by this time next year. Local forces already take the lead in over 60 percent of joint missions with allied forces, but Fogh Rasmussen said they should be given even greater responsibility for the country's security.
"Sooner rather than later we will start handing over the lead to Afghan forces with our forces in a supporting role," he told the meeting.
U.S. troops currently make up almost half of NATO's 71,400 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In addition, there are about 36,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan serving outside the NATO command.
Although Britain has said it will add 500 troops to its contingent of 9,000, there was little sign that other allies were lining up to add significant numbers of new troops. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ruled out sending any more, and German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said his country would likely maintain its contribution at 4,500 troops, although he suggested that could change after a major conference on Afghanistan expected early next year.