The United States and Britain appealed on Sunday for more troops in Afghanistan as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan said that winning in Afghanistan will be "much tougher" than in Iraq.
The U.S. and Britain urged NATO allies to provide more troops and equipment to fight insurgents in Afghanistan, with the future of the allied mission there on the line.
"I would be remiss if I did not ask individual countries to examine very closely the forces and other contributions they can provide as ISAF intensifies its efforts in preparation for the elections in August," said the top U.S. commander for southwest Asia, General David Petraeus.
At a major security conference in Germany, Petraeus read off a list of requests for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, including troops, but also aircraft, medical evacuation facilities, engineers, logistics and trainers.
Forces desperately needed
There are currently around 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan including 50,000 under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
ISAF is battling to spread the influence of the weak Afghan government across the strife-torn country, and trying to foster reconstruction.
But the Taliban, backed by al-Qaeda, drug lords and criminal gangs, has been waging an increasingly effective insurgency, notably in the south and the east.
Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and the U.S. have troops on the frontline of that fight, but other allies insist that reconstruction is as important as combat and refuse to redeploy.
British Defense Secretary John Hutton insisted that combat forces were most desperately needed, as only by capturing and holding ground in the hands of the insurgents could the allies ensure that rebuilding can be done.
"Combat forces, that is a most precious contribution right now to that campaign," he said. "We kid ourselves if we imagine that other contributions are as important, right now."
He said that NATO's mission, its most ambitious ever, could be on the line.
"We face a moment of choice. I am frustrated; I think probably all of us are. We are fighting, I think, an existential campaign in Afghanistan," he said.
"What I want from NATO is more of a war-time mentality to rise to the challenge that we face."
Much tougher than Iraq
In the meantime, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke painted a bleak picture of beating the Taliban insurgency.
"I have never in my experience .. ever seen anything as difficult as this situation that confronts the countries involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Richard Holbrooke said.
"It is like no other problem that we have confronted and in my view it's going to be much tougher than Iraq," he told the conference in Munich.
"The West has been involved in Afghanistan for centuries, always with unfortunate results. I don't think we can afford to get it wrong this time, because for the first time, the situation directly involves the homeland security of the nations involved," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has identified Afghanistan as the main front in the "war on terror" and has pledged to send another 30,000 troops there to snuff out the Taliban and tackle their bases in the Pakistan border areas.
With the Taliban insurgency raging in parts of the country some seven years after the hardline Islamist group was ousted, Holbrooke also accused countries of not having delivered on their promises and attacked a lack of coordination in Washington.
"People got up and pledged things, and nothing happened, and that is the story of Afghanistan ... Within the U.S. government nothing is coordinated and ... I have never seen anything remotely resembling the mess we have inherited," Holbrooke said.