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NATO Defense Ministers to Discuss Training Iraqi Officers and Expanding Afghan Operations

  • Roger Wilkison

NATO defense ministers meeting in the French city of Nice on Wednesday and Thursday will try to agree on implementing the alliance's plan to train Iraqi officers, which has been hampered by the refusal of some allies to take part in the mission. But the alliance is expected to announce progress on its efforts to expand its peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan to the western part of the country in time for nationwide parliamentary elections later this year.

NATO has been trying hard to drum up the necessary contributions of troops and equipment from its members that will allow it to broaden its operations in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, the capital, and the northern region of the country.

But NATO officials say it now appears likely that the alliance will be able to expand westwards as part of its aim to mount a peacekeeping presence over the entire country by next year.

Italy, Spain and Lithuania have agreed to provide men and materiel for the mission in the west and will join American units that will now come under the NATO flag.

But the fate of a U.S. proposal to integrate the 8,000 NATO peacekeepers and the much bigger U.S. combat force pursuing remnants of the Taleban and their al-Qaida allies is still unresolved. France and Germany have opposed the move, saying the task of NATO forces in Afghanistan is to provide security for the Afghan government, not to fight terrorism.

NATO officials say the alliance is still short of commitments from its members for further expansion of its operations to other parts of the country.

But its problems in Afghanistan pale when compared with the difficulties it has encountered in trying to fulfill a mission approved last June by NATO leaders to set up a program to train about 1,000 Iraqi officers a year.

NATO had hoped that at least 300 instructors would be engaged in such training activities by now, but it has not been able to muster more than half that number. And the training has not formally begun because NATO is still waiting for its members to supply guards and logistics personnel for the instructors.

France, Germany and four other members of the 26-nation alliance have not only refused to send troops to Iraq but are preventing their officers who are assigned to NATO from participating in any mission inside the country.

But Germany has been training some Iraqi security personnel in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, and France has offered to do the same in Qatar.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says it does not matter how or where the allies are involved in the training mission as long as they contribute to the overall program.

"And we want to be in a position where all 26 allies are providing support, either in-country through training, outside of the country through training, through equipment provision or through funding, but that is a goal toward which the Secretary-General wishes to move or he believes we can move," he said.

The defense ministers will also turn their attention to Kosovo, where NATO has vowed to maintain its present force level in the restive Serbian province to insure stability there. As the time approaches for a resolution of Kosovo's status, NATO officials say they want to be as well-prepared as possible for any new outbreaks of ethnic violence between the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority.

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