Europeans seek bigger role in anti-terror fight

U.S. military slow to involve allies, recalling Balkan complexities

War On Terrorism : The World

November 07, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As they try to shore up shrinking public support in Europe for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, European leaders are pushing for a greater and more visible military role in the anti-terror campaign.

Germany announced yesterday that it was prepared for the first time since World War II to send fighting forces into a war outside Europe. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged up to 3,900 troops, including special forces, along with ships, transport aircraft and reconnaissance vehicles capable of detecting chemical and biological weapons.

Meeting with President Bush at the White House yesterday, French President Jacques Chirac renewed France's offer to send special forces in on the ground, in addition to the 2,000 military personnel it already has on ships and surveillance aircraft in the region, a French official said.

"Governments are coming to the U.S. and saying, `Please, let us participate, because when we do, our publics will come along,'" said Ivo Daalder, an analyst of European affairs at the Brookings Institution.

But the Pentagon has been slow in getting other nations involved. A spokesman said it is difficult to "make all the parts fit into a whole."

Since the bombing campaign began a month ago, only Britain has become a junior partner in the U.S.-led war, and Prime Minister Tony Blair has leveraged his country's support to gain a pre-eminent position among America's allies as a policymaker, spokesman and coalition builder.

However, the U.S. military has been reluctant to involve other allies to the same extent. Analysts say military commanders don't want a repeat of the complex allied decision-making of the war in the Balkans.

"The mission comes first, the coalition comes second, in contrast to the NATO war against Serbia," said Brookings military specialist Michael E. O'Hanlon.

Europeans want "to prove they can play in this arena," said Frances Burwell, who directs the trans-Atlantic relations project at the Atlantic Council of the United States, a think tank.

"There is a perception in Europe that NATO did a big thing by invoking Article 5," said Burwell, referring to the alliance charter requiring all members to help defend an ally under attack.

Countries that haven't been enlisted in the war effort are starting to complain, she said. For the United States, this means "walking a tightrope between involving the coalition members and [running] an efficient military operation."

In response, a U.S. official said, "For coalition purposes, we would like to see the Europeans drawn in" to the military effort.

But Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said involving other countries is difficult.

"You have to make all the parts fit," said Quigley. "It involves inter-operability issues, supply and support and communications issues. Tactics, techniques and procedures have to fit."

If Europeans were given a greater role in the U.S.-led military action, Daalder said, they might press for less intensive bombing and more ground action, maintaining that those governments are less fearful of a public backlash over war casualties than the Americans are.

In Europe, the war on terrorism no longer dominates the news as it did in the first weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and current coverage has tempered the early European enthusiasm for retaliation.

"The images coming to Europe on TV are more images of civilian casualties and collateral damage," a European diplomat said. "The more you go away from Sept. 11, the more public opinion has other things in mind."

Recent polls in France and Britain show a decline in the previously overwhelming public endorsement of the war in Afghanistan, although analysts and diplomats say support among governments and much of the opinion-leading elite remains strong.

Bush is making a major effort this week to solidify support in Europe and to show that he is listening to European leaders. Before meeting and holding a joint press conference yesterday with Chirac, Bush spoke via satellite to a conference in Poland of Central and Eastern European leaders, likening today's enemy to the dictators of the last century who sought to conquer Europe.

"We see the same intolerance of dissent; the same mad, global ambitions; the same brutal determination to control every life and all of life," Bush told the leaders.

Blair, who meets with Bush at the White House today, noted the need to shore up public opinion in an interview broadcast last night on CNN's Larry King Live.

"There's no way that you engage in conflict without difficult and harmful things happening," Blair said. "And it's at this point in time that we need to steady people, we need to say, `Look, let's go back and go through the argument again as to why it's happening, why we have to do this, why we have to see it through and why we have to see through what is happening in Afghanistan.'"

Addressing European sensitivities about the plight of civilians, Bush made a point of noting in his press conference with Chirac that "we have an obligation to help feed the innocent people in Afghanistan, [and] we've got to make sure that there is a post-Taliban government that reflects the values of both of our countries."

If some European nations have been less active militarily than they would like, they have been enlisted heavily in the diplomatic effort to assemble a broad-based future government for Afghanistan and to prevent a dangerous spiral of opposition to the war in the Muslim world.

The Europeans also are gaining a higher profile in trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue Chirac highlighted at the White House in speaking of "crises that can fuel terrorism."

In the past, bowing to Israeli distrust of Europe, the United States sought to prevent Europeans from acting as brokers in the peace process.

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