U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says NATO allies providing troops in Iraq have pledged to continue their military mission in the country despite recent deadly clashes with Iraqi insurgents. Mr. Rumsfeld made his comments on the final day of a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters that despite the fighting in Iraq, many of NATO's current or future members are vowing to continue their support for coalition forces working to bring security to the country.
"We got very good allied support on Iraq. Some, I guess 18 of 26 countries now are there. The ones that are there have I think, I shouldn't say this, most if not all pledged to stay on and to work to sustain their contributions and to not be dissuaded by the fact that there have been high-profile casualties that have been taken by some of the coalition countries," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld made those remarks on the same day funeral services were held in Spain for seven military intelligence officers killed last week in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said NATO defense ministers also discussed the possibility of a larger role for the alliance in Iraq.
Some officials have raised the possibility that sometime next year NATO could take command of a Polish-led international force in Iraq. NATO's mandate is currently limited to providing logistical support to Polish and Spanish troops.
Mr. Rumsfeld said NATO defense ministers also pledged to provide additional equipment and assistance for the alliance's peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or I-SAF, wants to expand beyond its operations in Kabul by sending small teams of soldiers into various provinces.
Secretary Rumsfeld said NATO's additional needs in Afghanistan, most notably more helicopters and intelligence personnel, will be met shortly.
"We made progress on the NATO-Afghanistan relationship. It is pretty clear to me that either the requirements for the NATO-I-SAF role have been filled or they are close to being filled. There may be one or two minor pieces left. There have been discussions about expanding NATO's role in Afghanistan, and we expect that there will be both NATO and probably non-NATO provincial reconstruction teams that will end up being established over a period of time," he said.
Eventually Mr. Rumsfeld says, NATO could go a step further and take over military operations in Afghanistan, although U.S. officials caution specific discussions are not expected until next year.
In addition to the 5,700 NATO peacekeepers, the United States has about 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan to assist in the country's reconstruction and to hunt down remnants of the former ruling Taleban militia.