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Gates Blasts NATO Members' Afghan Policies


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sharply criticized NATO allies Thursday, shortly after leaving a meeting of alliance defense ministers. The secretary spoke at a meeting of European army chiefs in Germany. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Ramstein Air Base.

Secretary Gates says some allies are not willing to share the risks of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and some who do provide forces put restrictions on their use, which he said "unfairly burden" other members. In his words, "there are those members who fulfill their commitments, and those who do not."

"Meeting commitments means assuming some level of risk and asserting the political will necessary to deploy armed forces beyond one's borders - fully manned and equipped, and without restrictions that undermine the mission. In Afghanistan, a handful of allies are paying the price and bearing the burdens of allies to create the secure environment necessary for economic development, building civic institutions, and establishing the rule of law. The failure to meet commitments puts the Afghan mission - and with it, the credibility of NATO - at real risk," he said.

Secretary Gates said the restrictions, known as 'caveats,' have done "real harm" to the NATO effort in Afghanistan. The secretary called on the senior military officers to try to convince their nations' leaders to end caveats, or the make them as "benign" as possible.

"Our progress in Afghanistan is real but it is fragile. At this time, many allies are unwilling to share the risks, commit the resources, and follow through on collective commitments to this mission and to each other. As a result, we risk allowing what has been achieved in Afghanistan to slip away," he said.

Secretary Gates said people may come to question NATO's value if it "can not summon the will" to fulfill a mission its members agree is "morally just and vital to" their security.

The secretary also said NATO members need to spend more on defense, and the alliance needs to become more expeditionary and make institutional changes that require, in his words, "real political will."

His comments were noticeably sharper than what he said the day before at the NATO meeting, when he called the session "positive" and noted that many NATO members are increasing their involvement in the Afghan missions. Still, he also said NATO needs to "raise its sights" and come up with more assets to succeed in Afghanistan. Later, a senior defense official said the differing comments are "two sides of the same coin."