U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew to Slovakia to ask NATO defense ministers to help the United States respond to the request for more resources made by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
Secretary Gates is in the potentially awkward position of asking NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan, while the U.S. government is still reviewing its own plans. But he told reporters on his aircraft it makes sense to have these talks now because the effort to stabilize and develop Afghanistan is a NATO mission, not just an American one.
"This is an alliance issue and my view all along has been we ought to do this in a way that if General McChrystal has an additional set of needs, it should not be looked upon as exclusively the responsibility of the United States to respond," said the defense secretary.
Gates says since the NATO summit last spring he has seen "more energy and more commitment" among NATO nations to doing what is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan. He described current consultations with NATO allies as "intense."
General McChrystal says the allied effort could fail to prevent a militant takeover in Afghanistan unless he is given more resources. In a secret request, he is believed to be asking for 40,000 or more additional troops, on top of 68,000 U.S. and nearly 40,000 coalition troops already there. President Barack Obama is expected to decide on any additional U.S. deployment soon.
Secretary Gates says he wants his NATO counterparts to think about what additional commitments they can also make to help reverse gains made by the Taliban and similar groups in recent years.
"My hope is that we can have a serious discussion about how things have changed in Afghanistan since last spring, and a way forward in which the alliance can share these responsibilities and work with the Afghan government to move the situation in a more positive direction," he said.
But the secretary says all contributions to the Afghanistan effort do not have to be military. He says he headed for Bratislava with a "menu of options" for allies to consider, and that much of the capability General McChrystal wants is not controversial, such as civilian assistance, training, and financing for development projects.
Speaking early Thursday during a visit to South Korea, Gates also welcomed the decision to hold a runoff to decide the Afghan presidential election, saying all nations involved have an interest in a smooth process to provide the winning candidate with as much legitimacy as possible.
"I think virtually all of the nations that increased their troop presence to provide security for the elections in August have kept those forces there and so are in a position to try and, along with their Afghan Army and police counterparts, provide as good a security as possible for the [runoff] elections," he said.
But Secretary Gates says that will not end problems of corruption and weak governance in Afghanistan. He says the international community will still have much work to do with any new government in Kabul to provide the kind of stability, security and services that will have a chance of convincing the Afghan people to support the government, rather than the militants of the Taliban and al-Qaida.