The NATO alliance has announced that it will boost its training mission in Iraq after some European members responded to appeals to send instructors there to train Iraqi security forces. But, U.S. and NATO officials say they are disappointed that some members of the 26-nation alliance are still refusing to take part in the mission.
NATO has been struggling for weeks to get its members to commit personnel to the training mission. It eventually hopes to have 300 instructors in Iraq as well as additional security and logistical personnel to back them up.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after a meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers that the mission is back on track.
"I'm very glad and happy to report that the training mission in Iraq is running entirely according to schedule," he said. "The number of personnel will go up from its present 60 to about 300. That is trainers and a few supporting staff."
The Secretary-General says Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands have offered to contribute personnel to the mission. He says the trainers will arrive in Iraq as soon as possible. But he acknowledges that the next phase of the operation - the setting up of a training academy for Iraqi officers - will probably not get under way until after Iraq holds elections in late January.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer and outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that it is time to overcome the lingering divisions within the alliance over the Iraq War and concentrate on guaranteeing stability in the war-torn country. But a handful of allies, led by France and Germany, refuse to send any military personnel to Iraq, even under the NATO flag.
Mr. Powell expressed disappointment that these countries are preventing their personnel assigned to NATO from taking part in the training operation, which was approved by the alliance's leaders earlier this year.
"I, of course, would have preferred that every member of the alliance would have participated in the effort that the alliance, at a political level, approved and agreed to," Secretary Powell said. "But the nature of our alliance is that every nation is sovereign to contribute as it sees fit."
NATO is also having a hard time convincing its members to step up contributions of men and materiel to its Afghan peacekeeping mission. The alliance wants to expand its operations to the western part of the country before parliamentary elections there early next year. But NATO officials say there have been few offers of extra personnel and equipment.
The secretary-general also said NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo should remain at full strength and on alert ahead of talks next year on the province's future.
Ministers said they were happy that the alliance managed to defuse a rift with Russia over the Ukraine election crisis by issuing a joint call with Moscow for a fair and free re-run of last month's tainted presidential elections.