Challenge to Europe Obama Calls for Help from NATO Allies in Afghanistan

US presidential candidate Barack Obama began sketching his position toward Europe on the campaign trail this week. He said the US needs more support from its NATO allies in Afghanistan and implied Germany should lift its ban on combat operations in the dangerous south.

US presidential candidate Barack Obama dropped another hint about his foreign-policy thinking on Thursday, saying European governments had to pull their weight in Afghanistan and not rely so much on the United States to do the "dirty work" against Taliban fighters.

So far Obama hasn't said much about America's posture toward Europe, but the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination set a new tone on his campaign plane by telling reporters there had to be more give and take between Washington and its NATO allies.

"I've been very clear that we do need more support from them," he said, referring to NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan. "We also may need to lift some of the constraints that they have placed on their forces there."

He didn't name any countries. But Germany, Italy and Spain have been under pressure from NATO and the administration of US President George W. Bush  to devote more soldiers to risky missions in Afghanistan.

Berlin has sent a total of 3,310 troops to Afghanistan under two separate missions. Germany's smaller commitment, as part of the US-led anti-terrorism campaign Operation Enduring Freedom, involves no more than 100 special forces who work directly with US soldiers and see front-line action. The rest of the troops are part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and are restricted from heavy fighting by the German parliament. German voters are wary of war, and the NATO mission comes up for review by parliament every year, which makes the issue delicate for politicians.

Proud of Harry

Britain contributes more troops, though, and Obama called Britain's Prince Harry a fine example of NATO cooperation in Afghanistan, after news reports revealed that the young royal was serving in Afghanistan. "I think the fact that Prince Harry is serving (in Afghanistan) is commendable, and I'm sure the people of Great Britain are very proud of him," Obama said.

Still, Obama couched his challenge to Europe in a promise to do more listening. He addressed a sore point in trans-Atlantic relations by saying that an Obama presidency would pay attention to its European allies.

"It is also important for us to send a signal that we're going to be listening to them when it comes to policies that they find objectionable," he said, "Iraq being at the top of the list."

These loud-and-clear statements follow a debate with his rival Hillary Clinton last Tuesday, when Clinton charged him with foot-dragging on Afghanistan as chairman of a Senate subcommittee on Europe. "He’s held not one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan," Clinton said at the debate.

Obama countered that he only took over the chairmanship in early 2007 -- when he was already running for president.