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Gates to Press Allies on Afghanistan During NATO Meeting


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the Netherlands for a NATO defense ministers' meeting, where he says he will press member countries to live up to the commitments their leaders made last year to increase their troop levels in Afghanistan. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Amsterdam.

Secretary Gates has been growing increasingly impatient with NATO allies, as they have failed to live up to commitments made at the NATO summit 11 months ago. He expressed that impatience at a meeting in Kiev Monday of defense ministers from southeastern European nations, including some NATO members and others that want to join the alliance.

"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.

The two million figure does not include U.S. military forces, which already make up the vast majority of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Secretary Gates said several countries have indicated their intent to increase their troop presence in Afghanistan. But he said he can not name them because they have not yet completed their domestic consultations.

Secretary Gates says the most urgent needs in Afghanistan are for troops to train the Afghan Army and for personnel to staff provincial reconstruction teams, which are crucial to the effort to deliver development to the Afghan people. U.S. officials say the NATO force in Afghanistan also needs more airlift and more flexibility in how it uses the forces from the various contributing nations.

Under NATO rules, countries can place restrictions on how their forces are used, so even though it may appear that NATO forces are fully, or nearly fully, staffed, they may not be able to do all the things a commander might want. Officials say NATO is able to carry out all its military missions in Afghanistan, but the operational burden falls unfairly on a limited number of nations.

The NATO defense ministers may also discuss policy regarding Afghanistan's increasing poppy crop. Poppy eradication is not part of NATO's mandate. But U.S. officials say the drug trade that feeds on the poppy crop is financing a large part of Afghanistan's insurgency.

There appears to be growing interest in having NATO do more to help the Afghan government do something about it. Still, officials point out that eradication is a last resort because it hurts farmers, who depend on the crop for their income. They say a more complex approach is needed that provides training and perhaps subsidies to farmers so they can grow other crops, and also targets the networks that process the poppies into illegal drugs and distribute them around the world.

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