News / Asia

NATO Secretary General Calls for Increased Training for Afghan Troops

Lisa Bryant

NATO's secretary general has called for more trainers to beef up Afghan troops and police during a defense ministers meeting that also addresses missile defense and spending.

In remarks opening a two-day NATO meeting in Brussels, the alliance's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said increased training of Afghanistan's police and military was critical to ensure that country's future security and sovereignty.

"Our aim is to help Afghanistan stand on its feet as a sovereign country that can defend itself against terrorism.  Because a stable Afghanistan means a safer world," said Rasmussen.

Washington has been calling for months for NATO partners to send more trainers to Afghanistan.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reiterated that appeal.  NATO's goal is for Afghanistan to have some 300,000 army and police officers by 2011 -- up from 243,000 today.  Some NATO allies, though, have fallen short of dispatching new trainers they pledged last year.

The push comes amid growing public frustration in Europe and in the United States about the Afghan mission, which continues to face major setbacks despite last year's troop surge.

The NATO meeting also will address two other key topics: missile defense and defense spending. Rasmussen urged NATO members to back missile defense.  NATO members meet in Portugal in December to decide whether to go forward.

"Our national armament directors have confirmed it is technically feasible to expand the system NATO is already developing to protect our troops so that it also protects our populations and territory," said Rasmussen.  "And we know the extra costs are manageable -- less than 200 million euros over 10 years spread among 28 allies."

Defense ministers also will be looking at ways to pare down NATO's budget at a time of fiscal austerity.  But Rasmussen says economizing should not mean sacrificing the alliance's defense capabilities. Rather, he has urged members to spend more wisely and pool resources where possible.

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