NATO's supreme allied commander, General James Jones, says the alliance is now deploying its troops far from Europe in places such as Afghanistan and Africa, representing a major change in its mission. The general says NATO has new abilities to respond to needs ranging from military conflicts to humanitarian relief. The general made his remarks during a briefing for reporters in Washington.
General Jones says NATO currently has 30,000 troops deployed on three continents.
He says the alliance is ready to expand its operations into southern Afghanistan, where insurgent activity has increased.
Jones says NATO troops are airlifting soldiers from the African Union for peacekeeping duties in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, and are also training young Iraqi army officers in a camp outside Baghdad.
General Jones says these missions are proof NATO is in the middle of a transformation of both its military capabilities and philosophy.
"The 20th century NATO was always conceived to be a static, reactive, defensive alliance. It was never really projected to go anywhere out of the area. The 21st century realities are calling for a NATO that is more agile, more flexible, and more expeditionary," he said.
General Jones says the most visible transformation is NATO's new rapid response force, which should reach full operational capability by October.
The new force will have 25,000 troops that can function on land, sea and in the air, responding to a crisis with less than a week's notice.
Jones says 2,000 troops from this force recently provided assistance to earthquake victims in Pakistan.
"Whether it is in the case of disaster relief or humanitarian operations or training missions in remote parts of the world where NATO can bring stability and security and help struggling democracies achieve their ultimate goals for their people, which is a better life, a more secure life and economic opportunities. If it is the will of the nations that NATO bring its capacity to do those kinds of things, I think you will find enormous capacity in the alliance," he said.
General Jones did express concern about what he calls a low level of commitment from some of the alliance's 26 members.
He says only seven nations are meeting their pledge to allocate two percent of their gross national product to defense spending.