U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Europeans Sunday to support NATO's mission in Afghanistan, which he described as an effort to help "a war-devastated people" create a free society, just as the alliance did for many European countries 60 years ago. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Munich.

Secretary Gates used his speech at the annual European Security Conference here to speak directly to Europeans, many of whom he acknowledged reject his call for more NATO troops for Afghanistan. He said although Afghanistan is far from Europe, the mission is in keeping with NATO's traditional support for people seeking freedom and prosperity, and also an important part of the effort to end international terrorism by Islamic extremists.

Gates said, "The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real - and it is not going to go away. You know all too well about the attacks in Madrid and London. But there have also been multiple smaller attacks in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Paris, and Glasgow, among others. Numerous cells and plots have been disrupted in recent years as well - many of them seeking large-scale death and destruction."

Secretary Gates has said some Europeans oppose the war in Afghanistan because they link it to the war in Iraq. But he said Sunday they should remember that major terrorist attacks were engineered in Afghanistan, and that that could happen again if the country is not set firmly on the road to stability. He said European support for the war in Afghanistan is "weak" because many Europeans "may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat" instability in Afghanistan could pose to Europe.

Secretary Gates said, "Imagine if Islamic terrorists had managed to strike your capitals on the same scale as they struck in New York. Imagine if they had laid their hands on weapons and materials with even greater destructive capability - weapons of the sort all too easily accessible in the world today. We forget at our peril that the ambition of Islamic extremists is limited only by opportunity."

Secretary Gates urged Europeans to "find the resolve" to confront today's challenge to freedom, just as earlier generations did.

The secretary said a NATO defeat in Afghanistan would worsen what he called the "cancer" of Islamic extremism, and he said he sees the Afghanistan mission as a test of NATO's credibility. "We must not - we cannot - become a two-tiered Alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not. Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the Alliance. In NATO, some allies ought not to have the luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, thus forcing other Allies to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and the dying."

Secretary Gates also said a five-year strategy document for Afghanistan that NATO officials are now drafting should lay out "realistic" goals and a "roadmap" for achieving them. The document will be considered by NATO leaders at their summit in Romania in April.