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US Defense Chief Says Obama Will Ask NATO for More Help in Afghanistan


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says in the wake of the new U.S. decision to sharply increase its troop presence in Afghanistan, 20 countries have decided to boost their contributions to that counterinsurgency effort, too, but not all the increases will be military forces.

The secretary says President Obama will ask the allies to do even more before he meets his fellow-leaders for the first time at the NATO summit in early April. The defense ministers concluded two days of meeting in Krakow Friday.

Secretary Gates said he came to Krakow to ask NATO members and other contributing nations to send more troops to Afghanistan in the short term, to help provide security for its elections in August, and to do more on police training and civilian development in the long term. His case was strengthened earlier in the week when President Obama approved a 45 percent increase in the U.S. troop commitment.

As the meeting ended Friday, Gates told reporters he was pleased with the responses he received.

"There have been some new commitments made, on both the civilian and the military side over the last couple of days," he said. "About 20 countries, 19 or 20 countries, announced at one point or another in the meetings that they would be increasing their contribution either on the civilian or the military or the training side, so I consider that a good start."

A spokesman confirmed that 20 countries, 15 of them NATO members, announced increased contributions for Afghanistan during this two-day series of meeting. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says 10 countries are sending more troops to help with election security, and three are adding aircraft, including fighter jets. But the contributions are small in numbers, with Germany's additional 600-troop deployment being the largest. The U.S. troop increase will be 17,000, added to 38,000 already there.

Morrell says there will also be more medical teams and more money for the election security effort. In addition, he says, more than 15 nations responded to a long-standing U.S. request for more training teams for the Afghan army, which is in the process of expanding, and several others are eliminating restrictions that have prevented their troops from going into dangerous areas with the Afghan units they train, partly granting another long-standing U.S. request.

Morrell says there were also commitments made to provide staff for about six more provincial reconstruction teams, more much-needed helicopters for the NATO force in Afghanistan and several other increases of police trainers, civilian personnel and money. Secretary Gates has said he believes many NATO member nations will be more comfortable helping with non-combat aspects of the Afghanistan effort, and U.S. officials have come to accept that situation.

Still, Secretary Gates says alliance leaders can expect more requests as President Obama develops his Afghanistan strategy in the coming weeks, leading up to the NATO summit.

"We will be developing what we believe other nations might be able to contribute, and so I think a point worth making is that our new president has not yet asked anybody for anything," he said. "We are trying to develop through this review what those needs are most likely to be. And at that point, I believe before the NATO summit, we will be making those requests.

And Secretary Gates said he expects that the NATO countries will respond positively to President Obama's requests.

"I expect that there will be significant new commitments, on either the civilian or the military side, in connection with the NATO summit," he said.

Secretary Gates says NATO allies will be consulted, as will other countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan itself, as a high-level White House team works on strategy options for the president.

On other issues, including U.S. and NATO relations with Russia and plans to build a missile defense system in Europe to counter Iran's growing capabilities, Secretary Gates asked the allies to be patient as the Obama administration works out its policies on those and many other foreign policy issues.

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