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US Defense Chief Urges Southeast Europe to Help NATO in Afghanistan


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized NATO allies for their failure to meet their own commitments for troops in Afghanistan. He made the comment as he announced that some Southeastern European nations intend to increase their commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv, where Secretary Gates met with his counterparts from the region on Monday.

Secretary Gates said several nations indicated their intent to increase their troop presence in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq. But he said he can not name them because they have not yet completed their domestic consultations. At the same time, he criticized NATO allies for failing to provide the forces agreed to at their annual summit earlier this year.

"I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over two million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen can not find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan," he said.

Secretary Gates said that will be a major theme of his meeting with NATO defense ministers later this week near Amsterdam.

A U.S. official said Slovakia's defense minister told Secretary Gates during a break in the meetings that his country would add 47 members to its contingent in Afghanistan, bringing it to about 125.

Secretary Gates came to Ukraine for a meeting of the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministers group, an organization focused on improving ties to the west among former communist countries, many of which have joined, or want to join, NATO.

According to a transcript of his remarks at a closed meeting, Secretary Gates told his 11 colleagues their organization risks becoming irrelevant if it does not take action to address current challenges. He said the nations should contribute as much as they can to the NATO-led effort in Afghanistan, particularly training teams for the new Afghan Army and specialists for provincial reconstruction teams.

The Southeastern Europe group deployed its brigade to Afghanistan last year to provide headquarters services. But Secretary Gates said the group should review the capabilities, shortcomings, and requirements of the unit, and carefully review what each nation contributes before deciding on any further deployments.

He also called on the Southeastern Europe nations to keep their troops in Kosovo beyond December 10, regardless of the outcome of talks on the region's future.

Also on Monday, the Southeastern Europe defense ministers officially recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina as their group's 12th member.

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