U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he is confidant NATO countries will strengthen their forces in Afghanistan to help bring stability and assure peace in that country. Mr. Rumsfeld says he discussed with his fellow NATO defense ministers an expanded role for the alliance in Afghanistan.
After a day of meetings with defense ministers here in Brussels, Mr. Rumsfeld said NATO Secretary General George Robertson will be able to convince alliance members to provide the necessary resources to make sure the alliance's mission in Afghanistan will be successful.
Mr. Rumsfeld says he supports NATO's efforts in Afghanistan to expand the International Security Assistance Force, or I-SAF, beyond the capital, Kabul.
"We discussed the progress in Afghanistan and the implementation of the alliance decision to expand I-SAF beyond Kabul by creating additional provincial reconstruction teams," he said. "If this proves successful we also discussed the possibility that NATO might take over military operations in Afghanistan sometime in the future, although that remains to be seen."
Mr. Rumsfeld says the defense ministers also discussed a larger NATO role in Iraq, but U.S. officials indicated that issue will not likely be dealt with in detail until next year.
The defense secretary also told reporters he supports NATO as the main defense organization for Europe.
Washington has expressed concern that a proposed European Union military planning unit could undermine NATO's efforts.
Secretary Rumsfeld says after Monday's discussions he believes that will not happen. "I am confident and hopeful that things will sort through in a way that we end up in an arrangement that is not duplicative or competitive," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld declined to say whether the United States believed the European Union needs a military planning cell that is independent.
He said the issue is under discussion at the highest levels of government.
In Bosnia, the NATO defense ministers agreed to cut the alliance's peacekeeping force from 12,500 to 7,000, paving the way for a possible end to that mission by late 2004.