U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates did as he promised at a NATO meeting in Lithuania Thursday, he again urged other allies to provide more troops for Afghanistan. But he also says he does not believe there is a crisis in the country, and he understands the political difficulties some allies face. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Vilnius.
Secretary Gates had said he would "nag" NATO allies again to send more troops to Afghanistan, and he says that is what he did on the first of two days of meetings here.
"I called on the other allies to make further commitments to the mission, to do what they could to meet unmet needs as articulated by the commanders out there, and to consider other, more creative, ways that they may be able to contribute," he said.
Many European governments stress the need for more efforts on reconstruction and economic development in Afghanistan. But while Secretary Gates agrees with that, he made clear that the United States believes more troops are needed, too, and with fewer restrictions imposed by their home governments.
"What we are obviously interested in is more who will have no caveats on their forces, and those who are willing to engage in the fight itself," he added.
After a NATO meeting last October, Secretary Gates sharply criticized some allies for not fulfilling their commitments and for putting the alliance's Afghanistan mission at what he called "real risk." Last month, he announced the deployment of 3,200 U.S. Marines, most of them to restive southern Afghanistan, to ensure gains made against the Taliban are not lost.
On Wednesday, Secretary Gates said NATO could evolve into a two-tier alliance, with fighters and non-fighters, but the secretary said he was encouraged after Thursday's meetings.
"I do not think that there is a crisis," he explained. "I do not think that there is a risk of failure. My view is that it represents potentially the opportunity to make further progress faster in Afghanistan if we had more forces there."
Secretary Gates says he will not send more Marines when this deployment ends in November, and he wants other NATO members to provide replacement forces. In addition, Canada has said it will withdraw from southern Afghanistan next year if it does not get more help from the allies.
Secretary Gates says he understands the political difficulties and public opposition some European governments face when they consider sending more troops to Afghanistan, but he says more must be done, perhaps by sending equipment and paying costs.
A few countries indicated they might send a few more troops to Afghanistan, but no major announcements are expected until the NATO summit in April in Romania.
At a separate news conference, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted that NATO has increased its troop presence in Afghanistan by more than 8,000 in the past year, and he disputed claims that the mission is close to failing.
Scheffer also had strong words for the government of Afghanistan, saying it cannot rely on NATO to do everything for the country.
"We do not own it," he said. "The Afghan people own their own nation. And it is up to the Afghan government to be responsible for the fight against corruption, to play their role in the fight against narcotics to see that law and order is there in the full sense of the word. That is their responsibility."
Scheffer said he is "cautiously optimistic" that NATO will succeed in Afghanistan, but he also said it will take patience and a long-term commitment. He is working on a strategy document to be approved at the summit that U.S. officials say is designed in part to convince Europeans that creating a stable Afghanistan is important for their security, so they will support their governments sending more troops