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NATO to send up to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan

STRASBOURG, France _ President Barack Obama won a pledge from NATO allies Saturday to send as many as 5,000 more troops to help in Afghanistan, calling it a “strong down payment” to securing coming national elections and the entire country.

"I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for our new strategy," Obama said as he wrapped up the two-day summit, his second international meeting of the week after an economic summit in London.

It was unclear, however, exactly how much Obama won at the gathering of the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Some of the troops included in the announcement already had been committed heading into the summit. And Obama would not say how many of the new troops would be new forces or merely reinforcements.

White House aides said the deal includes a pledge of 3,000 troops to help safeguard Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 national elections, including 900 from the United Kingdom, 600 from Germany and 600 from Spain.

The 3,000 additional international troops would join 17,000 new U.S. troops to meet commanders’ request for 20,000 more troops to secure the elections, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Other allies, inside and outside the NATO alliance, also pledged between 1,400 and 2,000 troops to train Afghan Army units and police including 300 to 400 from France, 100 from Italy and the rest from nine other countries.

They will be dispatched in “operational mentoring liaison teams’ of 20 to 40 trainers each to go into the field with Afghan units.

Allies also pledged $100 million for a trust fund to finance training, including $57 million from Germany, according to Gibbs.

As the allies met, thousands of protesters battled riot police and set a hotel and a border post on fire.

Obama particularly heralded the alliance’s endorsement of his overall strategy for Afghanistan and its agreement that violence and instability there will harbor terrorism and pose a threat to Europe as well as the United States.

"For years, our efforts in Afghanistan have lacked the resources needed to achieve our goals," Obama said. "And that's why the United States has recommitted itself to a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

“We will deploy the forces necessary to safeguard the national elections,” added NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. “When it comes to Afghanistan, this summit and this alliance have delivered.”

If there were objections to sending more troops, a key reason could have been a clash of values.

Scheffer said that Europeans blanched when Afghan President Hamid Karzai proposed new laws sanctioning child marriage and marital rape.

“We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me,” he said.

Merkel and Sarkozy both said the alliance is pressing Afghanistan to kill the proposed laws.

“It is very important,” Merkel said, “that we make the point that the rights of women are equal that the piece of legislation is to be withdrawn, it is unacceptable.”

“Unanimously, we requested that the rights of men and women be respected,” Sarkozy said. “We will not compromise on these values. “

Obama said he’s told the Afghan government of his objections to the law. Asked about sending U.S. troops to defend a government considering such a repugnant law, Obama stressed that the troops are there defending the United States.

"I think this law is abhorrent," Obama said. "Certainly the views of the administration have been, and will be, communicated to the Karzai government. And we think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle."

In another stress point between NATO and the Muslim world, a dispute simmered over whether a carton offensive to Muslims might derail appointment over the group’s next leader.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had been the popular choice to become the alliance’s next secretary general.

But Turkey objected, saying Fogh Rasmussen would be offensive to the Muslim world because he defended the Danish publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.

Muslims in some countries reacted in violent protests, but Fogh Rasmussen insisted that freedom of speech protected the publication.

Turkey eventually agreed to the appointment, reportedly in return for more say in NATO.

Obama flew later Saturday to the Czech Republic for a third summit, this one with the European Union. He planned Sunday to deliver a speech on non-proliferation.

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