France and Germany have turned down a U.S. proposal that the NATO peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan and the bigger U.S.-led force fighting insurgents there be merged into one single command. No way! That was the French and German reaction to the U.S. suggestion that the two Afghan commands be unified.
NATO has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan who are mainly engaged in peacekeeping and reconstruction work in Kabul, the capital, and some northern provinces. The alliance wants to move into the more troubled western part of the country and is calling on its members to commit troops and equipment for that operation.
The U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom has twice as many troops and is concentrated in Afghanistan's southeastern provinces, where it is engaged in combat operations against remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters after the meeting that the two commands have different missions and that it would make no sense to unite them.
She says there is some sense in trying to create synergies between the two forces, but, for France, there is no logic to merging their operations.
Her German colleague Peter Struck also rejected the idea of a fusion of the two commands, saying German troops are in Afghanistan to help stabilize the country and not to fight terrorists.
NATO officials have been touting the idea that the two commands could be brought under one general, but maintain their separate missions. But Ms. Alliot-Marie dismissed even that suggestion, saying it would be counterproductive. She did not explain why.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged the allies to provide NATO's nascent training mission in Iraq with the instructors and additional personnel it needs so that the operation can be up-and-running by the time Iraqis hold elections next January.
But France reiterated its refusal to take part in the training mission, and German minister Struck backed away from a previous hint that his country might at some unspecified later date provide troops there. He was quickly slapped down by his own government, which has insisted it will not take part in any military operations in Iraq.
The flurry over Afghanistan overshadowed NATO's announcement that its new rapid response force of 17,000 troops is ready to go into action. The force's goal is to react to crises around the world in five days time.