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US Defense Secretary Praises NATO Efforts in Afghanistan


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to lay to rest Thursday the controversy generated by comments he made to the Los Angeles Times that criticized NATO's readiness to fight insurgents in Afghanistan, and to train the country's new security forces. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates made a point at the beginning of a news conference to thank several NATO allies by name for their military roles in Afghanistan.

"Allied forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark and other nations have stepped up to the plate, and are playing a significant and powerful role in Afghanistan," said Robert Gates.

Secretary Gates said he is not dissatisfied with the performance of any NATO contingent in Afghanistan, and the allies contributed to the rollback of Taliban forces, in what he called "some of the most grueling conditions imaginable."

"As a result of the valor and sacrifice of these allies, the Taliban has suffered significant losses and no longer holds real estate of any consequence," he said. "Indeed, the resort to suicide bombers and other terrorist acts are the actions of those who have suffered consistent and repeated defeat in regular military actions throughout 2007."

Secretary Gates was trying to ease concern among some NATO allies about comments he made to the Los Angeles Times in which he indicated he is "worried" that NATO is deploying some military advisers and combat forces that, in his words, "are not properly trained and...don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."

Gates says he was referring to the need for the NATO alliance, with its roots in the Cold War, to change its training in order to improve its troops' counterinsurgency abilities. He said some nations are already doing that, and have "considerable expertise," but he would like to see more allies train their troops in counterinsurgency before sending them to train Afghan forces.

In the article, Secretary Gates also praised U.S. efforts in eastern Afghanistan, but he says he was not trying to draw a negative comparison to the efforts of other NATO allies in Southern Afghanistan.

"I wasn't drawing any invidious comparisons at all," said Secretary Gates. "I was simply pointing out that we do have a successful counterinsurgency apparently underway in RC [Regional Command] East."

The United States announced on Tuesday that it is increasing its troop deployment in Afghanistan by 10 percent, sending in 3,200 marines, most of them to help the NATO-led effort in the south and the rest to help train the new Afghan security forces. Even so, NATO will be more than 3,000 troops short of the number its own generals have said they need. But Gates says the capabilities of the marines, and some additional trainers freed up from the ranks of other U.S. forces in Afghanistan, should fill most of the requirement.

Regarding the criticism of his comments by European officials, Secretary Gates said "a coalition at war always suffers stresses and strains," but NATO must overcome issues that provoke arguments and focus on what he called "the mission that unites us - ensuring a free and secure Afghanistan."

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