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US, France Discuss Afghanistan and NATO


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his French counterpart Herve Morin discussed NATO's involvement in Afghanistan during a meeting Thursday at the Pentagon, but neither would provide many details of their talks. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The U.S.-French meeting could have been an important prelude to the NATO defense ministers' meeting next week. But neither official would say whether they discussed any of the controversial issues related to NATO's Afghanistan mission, including whether either country will send more troops to the southern area. Canada, which takes command in the south in February, says it may withdraw its troops next year if more NATO members do not help.

Secretary Gates noted that he just authorized sending 2,200 U.S. Marines to southern Afghanistan for seven months, and he would not say what, if anything, he discussed with Minister Morin about possible deployments by France or other NATO members.

"Minister Morin and I discussed a wide range of issues relating to Afghanistan, including the participation of the allies, and the need for a comprehensive strategy," he said. "And I think I'll just leave it at that."

Minister Morin also declined to answer specifically whether France would consider sending combat troops to Southern Afghanistan.

The minister only said it is important to remember that the Afghan problem is not purely military, but also requires initiatives on political and economic issues. Secretary Gates agreed with that.

Secretary Gates also declined to comment specifically on two independent reports issued in Washington on Wednesday that were critical of NATO's Afghanistan mission. One report said NATO is "not winning" in Afghanistan and is in a "strategic stalemate." Both reports were written by commissions chaired by retired General James Jones, who was the NATO supreme commander until a year-and-a-half ago. Jones called for steps to be taken to regain lost momentum in the Afghanistan effort.

Secretary Gates would only note NATO military successes during the past year, and he said the Taliban holds no territory and is turning to terrorism, because it has failed in conventional military conflicts with NATO.

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