U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates ran into resistance Thursday from NATO allies the United States is pressing to bolster alliance forces in time for a spring offensive in Afghanistan, but some countries promised to provide small numbers of additional troops and equipment.
Gates, attending his first gathering of NATO defense ministers, said the U.S. made no additional commitments for more troops of its own. Gates recently extended the tour of a brigade in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has 27,000 troops the most since the war began in 2001.
U.S. and NATO military leaders have repeatedly called on alliance members in recent months to send reinforcements and lift restrictions on where their troops can serve. They have met with only limited success.
France and Germany have questioned the wisdom of sending more soldiers, while Spain, Italy and Turkey have also been wary of providing more troops.
"When the Russians were in Afghanistan, they had 100,000 soldiers there and they did not win," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters.
Even so, the meeting in southern Spain produced some smaller offers from other nations.
Lithuania, which already has 130 troops in Afghanistan, offered to send an unspecified number of special forces, helping to fill a key shortfall.
Germany says it will provide six Tornado reconnaissance jets, but not significantly augment its 3,000 troops in the north. The Italian government said it would send a much-needed transport plane and some unmanned surveillance aircraft, but is struggling to secure parliamentary backing for the finances needed to maintain a contingent of 1,950.
Spain also said it would send four unmanned planes and more instructors to help the Afghan army, reports AP.
After nearly five years at war with the Taliban, this spring will be critical because it could give the people of the country more hope, Gates said.
"Each spring for the last several years, the Taliban have been more aggressive and there has been an increasing level of violence," he said. "There is a consensus on the part of the ministers that it is important that this year we knock the Taliban back and bring the situation fully under control to help the Afghan people have confidence in the fact that their government is making progress."
NATO's new top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, presented ministers with a plan to "rebalance" the force of 35,000, using more mobile combat units in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan where combat is expected to be most intense.