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US Says Allies Must Step Up Commitment in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged NATO allies to step up efforts in Afghanistan during two days of talks in Brussels. The appeal comes amid similar calls for increased development aid for Afghanistan by the international community. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

In talking with his NATO counterparts, Secretary Gates said he had decided to put aside his prepared remarks and speak instead, "from the heart".

"I told them [NATO defense ministers] that my expectations are simple," he said. "I expect government decisions and actions to match government rhetoric. Last month for the first time more coalition forces were killed in Afghanistan than were killed in Iraq."

Gates said there has been "significant security progress," but he said many shortfalls remain. He said NATO has not fulfilled promises members made at their summit in Bucharest, Romania earlier this year, when the alliance discussed the need for more troops on the ground and better coordination among coalition partners.

NATO leaders have acknowledged the importance of prevailing in Afghanistan and they've warned of the risks for the alliance and for international security, should NATO fail. The United States, in particular, has chided some members for not committing enough troops or not sending their forces to areas of Afghanistan where they are most needed in the fight against the Taliban or al-Qaida supporters.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, General Dan McNeill, the outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, said current troop levels are sufficient for progress.

"If you want a faster rate of progress you need a more capable force," he said. "If you're not willing to make the force more capable, then you have to accept the pace that you're presently at, which by some people's reckoning is somewhat slow."

NATO has some 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the United States has several thousand additional soldiers mostly in the south on anti-terrorism operations.

McNeill said the Taliban are present in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan and need to be fought on both sides of the border.

"If there are going to be sanctuaries just out of reach, it doesn't matter how many insurgents you kill or capture," he said. "They can continue to recruit, train, breed."

Bur cross-border operations are more complicated and have on occasion gone wrong. Early Wednesday a U.S. airstrike killed 11 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. says it targeted insurgents across the border, but Pakistan called the strike "unprovoked and cowardly." The United States has expressed regret over the deaths, and the two sides have agreed on a joint investigation.

Calls for greater military commitment for Afghanistan come amid similar appeals for economic aid. Donor nations and organizations meeting in Paris on Thursday pledged nearly $16 billion for Afghanistan.