U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he got a good response from NATO allies Thursday when he asked them to do more to help provide security for the elections in Afghanistan in August, and for longer term projects training the country's security forces and improving its economy.
Secretary Gates had said his main focus in speaking with his NATO counterparts this week would be Afghanistan, and after the first day of meetings in Krakow Thursday he indicated he was pleased with the response.
"I think that there is a shared belief that we need to do more in terms of providing security in the run up to the Afghan election," he said. "There is very strong support for the expansion of the Afghan army. There was a lot of talk today about what we could all do in terms of helping train the Afghan National Police. Particularly with respect to the police, I think that more than I have heard in the past there was an expression of the importance of helping train and expand the Afghan National Police."
There were reports that Germany has decided to send 600 additional troops to help with the Afghan election, which Secretary Gates' spokesman immediately welcomed. Gates has said he wants more NATO troops for the election period in August, but that he realizes that in the long term the allies are more likely to provide military and police training and support for economic development.
The secretary also said the NATO defense ministers received a "realistic" and "balanced" report from Afghanistan's Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak about the situation in his country, where security has been deteriorating. President Obama announced this week he has authorized the deployment of an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, an increase of 45 percent, and the U.S. and NATO commander says he needs those and several thousand more U.S. troops for several years.
On Thursday, Secretary Gates said U.S. forces are also working on the details of a plan to enlist local citizens to help provide security for their towns and villages, as was done with considerable success in Iraq. The secretary said it is important for Afghan forces to be in the lead in security operations in their own country as much as possible.
Another issue on Secretary Gates' agenda Thursday was European missile defense. The Bush administration planned to build installations for the program here in Poland, and also in the Czech Republic. The Obama administration is taking a more cautious approach, saying it will pursue it only if the threat from Iran continues and if the program is technologically feasible and cost effective. Gates said he asked his Polish counterpart for patience as the new administration works out its policies.
"The fact is that between the economic crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration has not yet reviewed where it is on a whole range of issues, including relationships with our allies, the missile defense program, the relationship with the Russians. These things are all in many respects very much tied together, including Iran," he said.
Secretary Gates, who advocated for the missile defense program for two years during the Bush administration, declined to say whether he himself believes the program is technologically feasible and cost effective. He continues his meetings with NATO ministers on Friday.