US aid going to Afghanistan partners
The money comes from a $350 million Pentagon program designed to improve the counterterrorism operations of U.S. allies.
While the funding cannot be openly used as an enticement for NATO nations to either send troops to Afghanistan or keep them in the country, the budding initiative sends the message that those who commit to the counterinsurgency fight could be rewarded.
The U.S. is committing more troops to Afghanistan to beat back a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency — and watching in dismay as allies, including Canada and the Netherlands, look to pull troops out of the 8-year-old war or remove them from combat duties.
Roughly 87,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now, and about 100,000 are expected to be in place by late summer.
The number of allied troops is a bit more than 40,000 and could dip as nations begin bowing to political pressures. The Obama administration has been pressing allies to increase the number of troops, both for combat and for training Afghan security forces.
Defense officials tell The Associated Press that the initial aid package aimed at six small countries — Georgia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — is about $50 million and will be distributed almost equally among them. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been announced.
Those six countries account for fewer than 1,300 troops in Afghanistan. Most of the money will buy equipment for those forces, the defense officials said, but troops will also receive critical instruction on how to detect and counter roadside bombs as well as other training.
"It's not bribery," said Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But at end of the day, we're asking these allies to join us and we want them to be valuable partners. And some lack the resources to be partners in ways we need them to do so."
Nelson said that while the money can be an incentive for a country to keep forces in Afghanistan, some of the nations are under a great deal of political pressure to withdraw, and their minds aren't likely to be changed by a few million dollars.
The broad outlines of the plan were forwarded to members of Congress late last week. A second notice with details of how the money will be spent will go to Congress soon.
More than $200 million has been earmarked, with the bulk of it — roughly $150 million in military equipment and training — going to Yemen, a country seen as a growing haven for terrorists linked to al-Qaida.
Officials said there is a broad consensus within the Pentagon that delivering aid to coalition partners in Afghanistan is a priority. They expect to provide help to additional countries when the remainder of the $350 million is parceled out later this year.
Pentagon leaders are also pushing to expand the Afghanistan program beyond its current $75 million cap.
Initially, defense officials believed that the rules of the program prohibited them from spending money to help nations fighting alongside the U.S. in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But as the Obama administration was debating the U.S. troop surge last fall, Pentagon officials went to Congress to clarify the rules.
Lawmakers agreed that beefing up allies in the Afghanistan war was an appropriate expense, but they would not budge beyond the $75 million cap. Under the rules, the money can be spent building the counterterrorism abilities of smaller, poorer nations that have forces in Afghanistan.
Beyond that $75 million, the aid is meant to provide equipment and training that will build allies' counterinsurgency forces. Included in this latest release of funding, along with Yemen and the Afghan allies, will be aid to the Philippines.
Counterterror officials have grown increasingly concerned about the terror threat in Yemen, where militants linked to al-Qaida are believed to have planned the Christmas Day airliner attack over Detroit.
Officials would not say what equipment Yemen would get, but it is likely to include helicopters, communications equipment and other supplies, in addition to more training of the Yemeni forces.
Last year, the Philippines got about $14 million, largely for radar stations in the restive southern region.