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By David Brunnstrom and Phil Stewart
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - NATO ministers Friday backed a broader strategy against the Taliban insurgency expounded by U.S. and alliance commander General Stanley McChrystal.
The defence ministers meeting in Bratislava voiced support for such measures as increased training for Afghan troops so they can eventually take over responsibility for Afghanistan's security.
But they side-stepped the issue of whether there should be the big increase in foreign troop numbers called for by McChrystal, pending a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said many allies had spoken positively about McChrystal's assessment, but did not say whether he backed the general's call for more troops.
Obama is considering McChrystal's call for tens of thousands more soldiers. The U.S. president said Wednesday he could reach a decision on his new Afghan war strategy before the outcome of an Afghan election run-off on November 7.
Gates said a decision could still take weeks and European ministers said many allies would be awaiting a U.S. lead. Gates also said he had received signs from some allies that they might boost their commitments.
"There were a number of allies that indicated they were thinking about or moving towards increasing their military or civilian contributions or both," he told a news conference.
"I was in listening mode," he said. "Clearly one of the things that I think the president is expecting from me is to bring back the views of our allies on some of these issues."
McChrystal briefed ministers from NATO and partner countries on his recommendations that more foreign troops be deployed and his proposal to boost the size of the Afghan army and police to 400,000 from a current target of 230,000.
SUPPORT FOR MCCHRYSTAL
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the meeting showed support for the counter-insurgency strategy advocated by McChrystal.
"Which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems of Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists," he told a news briefing.
"What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilises the whole Afghan society," he said. "We should reinforce the interaction between our military effort and civilian reconstruction and development.
"Investing in Afghan capacity now means being able to do less later," he said. "Our mission will end when the Afghans are able to take responsibility for their own country.
"I have made it very clear to ministers that this cannot be done for free," he said. "We will need more training teams, we will need more money to sustain the Afghan forces."
Rasmussen also said NATO ministers wanted to see the future government in Afghanistan show it was cleaning up corruption and delivering services to the people.
European ministers said they expected any new troop pledges could come at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December, once Obama had made his decision.
"I think most countries are waiting for the Americans," Dutch Defence Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said.
NATO's Afghan mission currently involves 65,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 from allied nations.
Gates said the phase of analysing what Afghan strategy should be was coming to an end, and added:
"Probably over the next two or three weeks we're going to be considering specific options and teeing them up for a decision by the president."
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said Germany was likely to stick with its ceiling of 4,500 troops when it renews a parliamentary mandate in December but could review that number in early 2010.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai removed a stumbling block to Obama's decision when he agreed Tuesday to a second round of voting after many of his votes in the August presidential election were thrown out as fraudulent.
(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin in Berlin; editing by Michael Roddy)