U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on NATO members Wednesday to reassess what they have to do to succeed in Afghanistan, and he indicated that means larger commitments for the military mission and help on economic development, counter-narcotics and other issues. The secretary spoke to a small group of reporters after the first day of a two-day NATO defense ministers' meeting in the town of Noordwijk in the Netherlands. VOA's Al Pessin reports.
Secretary Gates said many NATO members are living up to the specific commitments they made for troops and other types of assistance for Afghanistan. But he says the alliance must go beyond promises made at its summit 11 months ago.
"We need to lift our sights, it seems to me, and see what is required long term for success, beyond the specific commitments that have already been made," he said.
Secretary Gates said increased efforts are needed particularly on economic development, building civil institutions and fighting the drug trade. At the same time, he said he feels better now than he did Monday, when he criticized NATO members for failing to send as many troops to Afghanistan as top leaders had promised.
"Well, I wouldn't say I'm satisfied, but I would say today was a considerably more positive day than I anticipated," he said.
Secretary Gates said NATO is about half way to filling the need for 72 training teams for the Afghan army by next summer, and he believes more teams will be promised in the coming months. He said he is confident NATO will rise to what he called "a litmus test for the effectiveness of the alliance in the 21st Century."
The secretary and other officials said several nations have indicated they will increase their troop commitments in Afghanistan, but they would not say which ones. One U.S. official said the commitments include training teams for volatile southern Afghanistan.
The French News Agency, AFP, reports France will send 50 troops to southern Afghanistan as trainers. Secretary Gates would not confirm that, but said any increased French involvement would be "most welcome." Another U.S. official said such a move would be "a big strategic shift."
Officials say NATO's mission in Afghanistan took most of their time Wednesday in a meeting that ran more than half an hour longer than scheduled. Secretary Gates called it a "candid and open" discussion and said some ministers spoke "very strongly" about the need for a more equal sharing of the burden.
Sources who monitored the closed-door session said NATO countries that do most of the fighting in Afghanistan pressured others to take larger roles, particularly in providing ground forces, airlift and trainers for the Afghan army and police forces. Dutch Defense Minister Elmert van Middelkoop, whose government must soon decide whether to renew its troop commitment, echoed that theme at a news conference.
"It is not about what we are willing to say for a safer and more just world. It ultimately depends on what we are willing to do. Fair risk and burden-sharing has to be the leading principle for NATO," he said.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday's meeting, with only the 26 NATO ministers in the room, was an "energizer" and a "pressure cooker." The official says all the members expressed their commitment to completing the military, development, good governance and counter-narcotics missions in Afghanistan. The official said ministers from countries with relatively small commitments in Afghanistan indicated they will "go home and dig deep" to find additional resources to send.
The NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, called on members to show "military, financial and political solidarity." He noted that officials will meet early next month to make formal troop commitments to carry on the Afghanistan mission.
The secretary general and other officials also called for a greater effort to explain to the public in Europe why the Afghan mission is important in both security and humanitarian terms.