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Rumsfeld Expresses Confidence NATO Will Provide Troops Needed in Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he expects NATO countries to supply enough troops for peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, where attacks by Taleban rebels have risen sharply.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters he is confident NATO member countries are committed to the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

NATO troops have recently taken command of peacekeeping operations in southern Afghanistan and by the end of the year are expected to take over the eastern part, which is currently commanded by the United States.

Although NATO members have been slow to fill manpower gaps in the peacekeeping force, Rumsfeld said he believed the requirements would be met because it is "important to Europe and Asia."

Rumsfeld was in Albania to take part in the annual Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial. In addition to defense ministers from regional NATO countries and the Partnership for Peace program, Bosnia, Georgia, Montenegro and Serbia attended as observers.

At least three of the countries at the meeting, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, want to become NATO members. After the session, Rumsfeld said the talks give defense ministers a chance to discuss their progress and he looks forward to a further expansion of the alliance.

"It is an interaction between the nations that aspire to join NATO and the nations in NATO and their assessments as to the progress those countries are making with respect to the reforms that are appropriate for NATO members," he said. "For myself, I look forward to seeing a number of countries join NATO in the period ahead."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld travels next to Slovenia where he will meet with NATO defense ministers for talks expected to focus on the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Those talks are also expected to include U.S. proposals that would enhance the ability of the alliance to carry out operations like the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Wednesday's Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial was also focused on strengthening military ties, regional security and participation in international military missions.

Set up in 1996 to promote regional military cooperation the ministerial heard a report on Kosovo, where a 16,000-member NATO-led force is responsible for peacekeeping.

Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu, the conference chairman, said the report stressed the need for Kosovo to maintain its multi-ethnic character. He said Albania will continue to support NATO by keeping military contingents in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

"I believe this [commitment] is a really good thing for the Albanian armed forces because the lesson learned, which we have discussed a lot today, is the great experience we are getting on these missions and how it helps the transformation of the Albanian armed forces," said Mediu.

Albanian officials say unresolved issues and terrorism continue to make the region volatile and underscore the need for cooperation.