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Obama, the pragmatist, wins NATO kudos but few troops for Afghan mission

The US president got a ringing endorsement of his new Afghanistan strategy – but only 3,000 new, mostly non-combat troops.

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US President Barack Obama, gestured, as he took a question from a member of the media, during his news conference at the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, on Saturday.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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It was the pragmatic compromise of a new US president whose early priority overseas is rebuilding relations. Three months into office, and at Barack Obama's debut NATO summit, the White House spent its capital shoring up the Atlantic alliance, building trust with NATO partners, and securing an Afghan commitment – rather than pushing hard for a sizeable fighting force deployed to the Hindu Kush.

In the end, that's what President Obama got at NATO's 60th anniversary: a ringing endorsement by France and Germany of his new Afghanistan strategy – but only 3,000 new, mostly non-combat troops for a mission that remains a political hazard here, along with $600 million in assistance.

"If you push too hard and ask too much, you risk a repeat of the Bush-years' bruised feelings in Europe, and risk an unraveling of the coalition now in Afghanistan," says Charles Kupchan, a Europe specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "The White House made a start. They said, 'Let's accept less than what we might want right now, to ensure NATO stays put in Afghanistan.' "

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