Gates wants NATO to fulfill its troop pledges for Afghanistan
SEVILLE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, attending his first conference of NATO defense ministers, told America's allies Thursday that they must fulfill their commitments to provide troops for Afghanistan in time for a spring offensive against the Taliban.
Gates and other NATO officials said progress had already been made on one issue — getting alliance members to lift some of their individual restrictions on the types of military operations their forces would be allowed to carry out in Afghanistan.
The goal of the two-day defense ministers' conference, NATO leaders stressed, was not to obtain new promises of troops and hardware, but rather to compel the allied nations to keep the promises they have made.
At the same time, however, the NATO defense ministers discussed a new assessment of the situation in Afghanistan prepared by U.S. General John Craddock, who recently took over as the supreme allied commander in Europe.
Craddock's classified review, called a Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, establishes new troop levels for the Afghan mission, and NATO officials said privately that it seeks commitments of about 2,000 additional troops as well as more helicopters and transport aircraft.
There are now about 35,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, 13,000 of them American. The United States has another 9,000 troops in Afghanistan operating outside the NATO mission, handling tasks like specialized counterterrorism work and helping to train Afghan forces.
"There are no formal decisions taken," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the alliance's secretary general, said when asked whether NATO ministers had moved toward new troop commitments. "It also is not a force-generation meeting."
Even so, the official said, more troops are needed because past pledges remain unfulfilled. "There is still a request out there for additional forces," said a U.S. official traveling with Gates.
In the years since they were removed from power by the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Taliban fighters there have tended to lay low during the mountainous country's harsh winter and return to action refreshed and rearmed when the weather warms.
Gates said the goal this year is to have the alliance forces ready. "The spring offensive in Afghanistan should be our offensive," he said. "I am optimistic we are going to be successful."
Gates said he had reaffirmed to the NATO allies that he would extend for 120 days a brigade of army troops deployed in Afghanistan, effectively doubling the American commitment of combat forces. He also cited Washington's promise of $8.6 billion for Afghanistan's security forces and another $2 billion for economic development.
NATO officials said Germany had also announced that it would add six combat aircraft to the Afghanistan mission to conduct reconnaissance missions. Other nations have said they will send more security trainers.
But Berlin's offer seemed somewhat tempered by comments from Franz- Josef Jung, the German defense minister, as quoted by German reporters. "I do not think it is right to talk about more and more military means," he said, according to German news accounts.