NATO defense ministers meeting in the French city of Nice have agreed to expand the alliance's peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to the western part of the country. The decision came after the United States and three other allies offered to commit troops to the operation.
NATO has struggled for months to muster a sufficient number of troops to staff the units it wants to send into western Afghanistan, as part of a plan to expand its peacekeeping operations to most of the country. The mission of the NATO peacekeepers is to provide security in the war-scarred country and to help extend the authority of the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai to outlying provinces.
Finally, after repeated frustrations, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was able to announce Thursday that the alliance had secured the necessary troop commitments.
"And I think our discussions today confirmed that, indeed, we have the resources that we need to expand ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, now operating, as you know, in the north also to the west, Heart and Zaranj provinces," he said.
The commitments that will allow the NATO peacekeepers to go into western Afghanistan as "soon as possible" came from Italy, Spain and Lithuania. The United States has also assigned two units of its combat force in Afghanistan to the NATO peacekeeping operation.
The United States has been urging its allies over the past several months to boost their commitments to NATO operations, not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq. But the Iraqi operation, where the alliance is trying to set up a training mission for Iraqi officers, has been hampered by the refusal of some countries to allow their troops to set foot on Iraqi soil.
Some of those reluctant allies, however, are either training or have offered to train Iraqi security forces outside of Iraq.
So Secretary-General De Hoop Scheffer now says NATO's goal is to get a firm commitment from each of its 26 members that they will contribute to the training mission in any way they can before a NATO summit later this month.
"You know that it is my intention and the allies' intention that, by the date we have the summit on 22nd of February, all NATO allies will support the training operation, be it by training inside Iraq, outside Iraq, or contributing to the trust funds for the funding we need for the training mission," he said.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer also argues that once the allies make a political commitment to begin an operation like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, they must be ready to provide the men, the material and the money needed to carry out the mission.