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Officials Urge NATO to Save Afghanistan, Future of Alliance

There has been no shortage of dire predictions recently of the potentially disastrous consequences if NATO does not pull together to put more troops and equipment on the ground in Afghanistan. Senior U.S. officials have traveled to Europe and Afghanistan to shore up support, NATO ministers have been meeting to discuss the issue amid warnings that failure could jeopardize the future of the alliance, spark a new round of terrorist attacks in the West and leave Afghanistan a failed state. VOA's Sonja Pace has this report from London.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to London this week, and then made a surprise visit to Afghanistan with her British counterpart David Miliband. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he came to the NATO ministers meeting in Lithuania Thursday to nag his counterparts.

"I called on the other allies to make further commitments to the mission, to do what they could to meet unmet needs, as articulated by the commanders out there, and to consider other, more creative ways that they may be able to contribute," he said.

The message was clear - western allies must rally in Afghanistan to succeed against a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida extremists. Gates recently warned that not doing so would jeopardize the very future of the NATO alliance.

Similar words came from Secretary Rice who, speaking in London, acknowledged that NATO has to transform itself for the fight.

"This is a different fight than NATO was structured to do," she noted. "It's taken some time, it may take some more time."

The United States has several thousand ground troops in Afghanistan on anti-terrorism operations, mainly in the southern parts of the country. It also has some 16,000 troops operating within the NATO force of more than 40,000.

Washington has been increasingly critical of some NATO allies, Germany among them, for not sending enough troops and for not operating in the most volatile areas of Afghanistan.

Secretary Rice warned that the battle against terrorists is, as she put it, the core of the modern fight.

"And, it's a tough fight, and it's a long fight," she added.

In London, defense analyst Christopher Langton of the International Institute of Strategic Studies says a clear understanding of the time involved in the conflict is crucial.

LANGTON: "Western governments tend to have a very short-term view of life. We're high-speed societies and we like to get things done quickly. This is a very long-term venture. It means being there for a very long time."

PACE: "When you say being there for a long time, what sort of timeframe are we talking about?"

LANGTON: "Ah well you see, you are asking a very western question - we have to have a timeframe. There is no timeframe and if we say there is a timeframe, then we hand over a little bit of advantage to the opposition. You [They] say, ah, there's a timeframe, all we have to do is keep going until the end of that timeframe and the field is ours."

Langton says U.S. anti-terrorist operations need to continue, and he says greater multinational efforts are needed to build up Afghan government forces.

American efforts this week to shore up NATO support come on the heels of recent reports about a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and even a warning that Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state.

Christopher Langton says he prefers not to use the term "failed state", but he warns of the consequences if the West's commitment to Afghanistan falters.

"We're looking at something, which I think all of us would find unpalatable and that is we would be returning Afghanistan to a state of civil war, which it was in before we got there and I don't think many of us find that morally acceptable," he added.

The U.S. launched the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban and sent al-Qaida into hiding. Speaking alongside Secretary Rice in Kabul this week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there has been progress since then to help the Afghan people. But, he also said more attention is needed in the areas of security and reconstruction.

The issue of Afghanistan is expected to be a major topic at the NATO summit, to be held in Bucharest, Romania in early April.