Obama calls on NATO members to adopt new Afghanistan strategy
Poor protester attendance sees several rallies fizzle out
U.S. President Barack Obama began lobbying NATO allies to adopt a new strategy in Afghanistan as world leaders gathered in France and Germany Friday for a two-day summit.
Obama arrived in Strasbourg, France, on Friday morning and met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the cross-border summit.
"It's not just a matter of more resources," Obama said. "It's also a matter of more effectively using the resources we have."
A key focus of the meetings of the 28 world leaders is expected to be developing a new strategy for Afghanistan. NATO allies have been reluctant to commit more ground troops in an escalating war effort that is becoming increasingly unpopular, especially with some Europeans.
The United States has already announced plans to send 17,000 extra combat troops to Afghanistan, 4,000 troops to help train the Afghan army and more civilian personnel to tackle problems such as the narcotics trade.
The U.S. is expected to ask its allies for more civilian help, including significant assistance to Afghan government ministries at the meeting.
European governments have already made clear they are unwilling to deploy significant new ground forces but are more enthusiastic about increasing humanitarian and development assistance to the beleaguered government in Kabul.
'Not an American mission'
"It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity," Obama said. "This is not an American mission, this is a NATO mission. This is an international mission."
"We are willing to contribute reinforcement in the police, the economy, to train the Afghan people," Sarkozy said. "We are not waging a war against Afghanistan. We are trying to help Afghanistan to rebuild."
Following the news conference, Obama hosted a town hall style meeting before a French and German audience, much of it made up of students, at a local sports arena. He continued to encourage Europeans to support the proposed American strategy for Afghanistan while also touching on climate change and the economic crisis.
"I understand this war has been long. Our allies have already contributed greatly to this endeavour," Obama said. "Understand we would not deploy our own troops if this mission was not indispensable to our common security.... I understand there's doubt about this war in Europe. There's doubt even in the United States."
Obama maintained that NATO's role in Afghanistan is indispensable to the allies' security.
New secretary general may be selected
The president met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the German spa resort of Baden-Baden later in the day, with both leaders emphasizing the importance of countries maintaining strong relationships in uncertain times.
The NATO summit, which marks its 60th anniversary, will begin with a formal dinner on Friday.
Mending ties with Russia and formally welcoming France back into NATO's military wing after a 43-year absence are also on the summit agenda.
Other items on the packed agenda include starting work on a new doctrine that will define the alliance's role and values in the 21st century and choosing a new secretary general to replace Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose term runs out Aug. 1.
Danish Prime Minister Ander Fogh Rasmussen is considered a front-runner for the position. A spokeswoman for Fogh Rasmussen confirmed Friday that he is a candidate.
Poor attendance at rallies
French police have detained more than 300 demonstrators ahead of the summit.
At least 107 people were still being held by police on Friday morning. Police are able to hold the demonstrators for up to 48 hours without formally charging them.
Officials estimate that tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Strasbourg and two southwestern German towns for anti-war, anti-globalization, anti-capitalism and disarmament rallies.
German officials said it is expected that 25,000 protesters will take part in demonstrations in the country, while France is estimating that up to 40,000 will converge in Strasbourg.
But police were reporting only small, scattered rallies on Friday.
In Baden-Baden, about 5,000 police officers were prepared for demonstrations during Obama's meeting with Merkel but only about 500 people marched from the train station to the city centre.
"Sixty years is too long!" the protesters chanted. "No more NATO is the goal!"
Meanwhile in Kehl, traffic was halted across the Europe Bridge that links France and Germany. There had been concerns among officials that thousands of protesters would march from Kehl to Strasbourg beginning at noon.
Police reported that the number of demonstrators in the area was significantly less than anticipated and some of the planned rallies seemed to fizzle out because of the poor attendance.
Police helicopters flew over the region while police boats patrolled the Rhine River.
Strasbourg shuts down
France has temporarily reinstated border controls with its neighbouring countries for the duration of the meeting.
Officials said 15,000 German police officers and 9,000 French police officers will be on duty during the summit.
The sites of the summit straddling the French-German border on the Rhine River were swathed in police and security cordons.
Schools and the local university were closed on Friday and many businesses opted to shut down for the duration of the summit.
Demonstrators had destroyed telephone booths and started constructing barricades in the city before they were overpowered by police Thursday night, said a police spokesperson.
Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to force hundreds of the demonstrators off the streets of Strasbourg, pushing them back to a tent camp that has been erected at the city's edge.
About 3,000 people at the camp are expected to stage a rally in Strasbourg's city centre on Saturday.
With files from the Associated Press