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Gates: NATO May Supply More Troops for Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he believes some NATO allies will provide more troops for Afghanistan soon, as he has been urging. And he says he will use his current trip to Europe to try to convince ordinary Europeans to support such moves by their governments. The secretary spoke to reporters on his plane enroute to Munich, following a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Lithuania. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Secretary Gates says he came out of the Vlinius meetings optimistic that NATO will come closer to sending the number of troops to Afghanistan that its military commanders say they need.

"A number of the allies are considering what more they might be able to do," he said. "I don't think anybody made any announcement. I don't think anybody's made any commitments. But I just have the impression from my conversations."

Secretary Gates and other officials hinted that France might soon announce an increase in its contingent in Afghanistan, a move he said would be "a big step." But the secretary says he also understands some European governments are limited in what they can do because of opposition from their people, something he is trying to help them reduce during this visit to the continent.

"Parts of my speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday will be directed at Europeans, not their governments in an effort to try and explain why their security is tied to success in Afghanistan, and how success in Afghanistan impacts the future of the alliance," he added.

Secretary Gates says he believes some European opposition to sending troops to Afghanistan is based on confusion.

"I worry that for many Europeans, the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused," he explained. "And what I want to try and focus on is why Afghanistan is important to Europe. Many of them, I think, have a problem with our involvement in Iraq, and project that on Afghanistan, and don't understand, for them, the very different kind of threat."

Secretary Gates pointed out that the September 11 attacks in 2001 were engineered from Afghanistan, and that some attacks in Europe were, too. U.S. officials say if Afghanistan is allowed to become a failed state again, it could also again become a safe haven for international terrorists.

At Secretary Gates' urging, NATO officials are finalizing a five-year strategic document for consideration by alliance leaders at their summit in Bucharest in April. The secretary says the document should lay out what NATO wants to accomplish in Afghanistan, and benchmarks for measuring progress.