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February 22, 2010

NATO to Add to Police and Army Trainers in Afghanistan

by Lisa Bryant

NATO spokesman says the alliance hopes to secure pledges of 2,000 or more personnel to train the Afghan army and police

NATO members and allies are meeting in the Belgium town of Mons to try to boost the number of police and army trainers in Afghanistan.  

The meeting in Mons, Belgium is being held as NATO forces are involved in a key operation in the southern Afghanistan Taliban stronghold of Marjah, trying to rout out the insurgency and establish a local government.  

But the NATO operation is deeply unpopular among the European public. On Saturday, the Netherlands government fell over the issue of extending the presence in Afghanistan of roughly 2,000 Dutch troops.

NATO spokesman Colonel Gregory Julian says during the one-day meeting in Mons the alliance hopes to secure pledges of 2,000 or more personnel to train the Afghan army and police.  

"It is an individual decision of each of the nations and we have been very pleased with all the contributions," Julian said. "And we are still encouraging additional contributions and that is what this process is all about."

NATO wants to boost the numbers of Afghan army and police by tens of thousands during the coming year.  But European members have fallen far short of their pledges.  

European Council on Foreign Relations security expert Daniel Korski expects NATO will secure additional European trainers, but not the numbers the alliance wants.  

"There will be some pledges, but the real problem on this question, as opposed to more general demands for troops, is that training is a really difficult task," Korski said. "It requires restructuring some of the army units to undertake it, it requires a willingness to take considerable risks, because trainers work quite closely with Afghan forces including in battle and have to rely on their Afghan colleagues in a way many NATO troops and many NATO governments are really uncomfortable [with]."

The expected Dutch pullout in Afghanistan has also sparked concerns that other European governments may consider following suit.  But Korski notes that despite European reservations, governments have steadily increased their presence in Afghanistan over the years, to about 32,000 troops today.  

"So while there are pressures on European governments to withdraw and there are governments that have begun, or will begin, European governments have come up with the goods on many occasions, even though it is hard to see from the headlines," Korski said.

The Mons meeting is part of a regular series of gatherings to get personnel for NATO's various missions around the globe.