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Gates Says NATO Effective in Afghanistan, Even with Shortfalls


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the NATO alliance has demonstrated that it can be effective in Afghanistan in spite of continuing shortfalls in the number of troops member-nations are providing. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Brussels, where Secretary Gates arrived late Wednesday for a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Secretary Gates says NATO forces in Afghanistan conducted an offensive of their own in recent months, preventing the expected spring offensive by Taleban forces. In comments during a stop in Germany on his way to the NATO meeting, the secretary indicated that for him, that is more important than NATO's continuing inability to provide as many forces as its leaders have promised.

"There are some unmet needs, but the reality is that the activities that the activities that are going on in Afghanistan over this spring, in my opinion, are quite positive, both in the security situation and in terms of the number of countries that are stepping up to help the economic reconstruction and development," said Secretary Gates.

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan, American General Dan McNeill said last week he needs more combat troops, more helicopters and more trainers for the new Afghan security forces. But Secretary Gates said Wednesday generals always want more troops, and that while NATO could always do more, particularly in the coordination of reconstruction aid, it has proven it can be effective in a place like Afghanistan, far from NATO's home base.

Gates said he expects some discussion of how to better coordinate aid efforts during the NATO defense ministers' meeting Thursday and Friday.

A senior official traveling with the secretary told reporters on his aircraft the issue of NATO force levels in Afghanistan will likely come up during the meetings, particularly regarding the staffing of reconstruction and training teams. The official says some countries may be ready to announce further contributions, but she also said people need to moderate their expectations of what NATO and the Afghan government can do.

The official also said Secretary Gates may raise questions about the new NATO Response Force, a rotating force of 25,000 that is on stand-by for emergencies. The official says the secretary will question whether it makes sense to maintain such a force while the NATO commitment in Afghanistan remains short of its target.

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