NATO Allies Remain Cool to US Call for More Troops in Afghanistan | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.02.2009
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NATO Allies Remain Cool to US Call for More Troops in Afghanistan

US calls for NATO allies to send more forces to Afghanistan have met with a weak response. Germany is against Washington's plans to provide security during the coming elections with the alliance's rapid response force.

A NATO soldier on patrol in Kabul

The US would like to see more short-term deployments of troops from NATO member states

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday, Feb 19, that he would not seek specific troop increases from NATO members to stabilize Afghanistan, but that Washington would like to see short-term deployments of forces from the alliance's embryonic rapid reaction force.

"The message is that it is a new administration and (it) is prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan," Gates told reporters at an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Polish city of Krakow. "But there clearly will be expectations that the allies must do more as well."

Gates said the US needed more non-military help to rebuild Afghan institutions, in particular governance and development and training and funding for Afghan security forces.

"We really need additional help on the civilian side ... frankly I hope it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases, especially for the longer term," he said.

NATO members reluctant to send troops

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Gates says the US needs an expansion of civilian help as well

Gates' comments come as US President Barack Obama said this week he would send an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total American contingent in the country to 55,000 soldiers.

US calls for NATO allies to share the burden of international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan have met with a non-committal response.

Most European nations remain reluctant to send substantial troop numbers to a politically unpopular mission as a Taliban-led insurgency gains ground and attacks against NATO troops mount.

Germany, the third-largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan with 3,500 troops, this week said it would temporarily send an additional 600 soldiers to help provide security during the upcoming election.

Italy too said this week it would send 500 more troops by April. France, which is talking of rejoining NATO, has ruled out sending any additional troops.

Germany against NRF deployment for poll security

A Bundeswehr tank in Kabul

A deteriorating security situation makes NATO members reluctant to deploy troops to Afghanistan

On Thursday, Germany's Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung said he opposed the use of the rapid reaction NATO Response Force (NRF) to provide security in Afghanistan during the country's presidential elections in August.

"The NRF should not be used as a reserve," Jung told reporters in Krakow. "The NRF has fundamentally different tasks."

Launched at the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague and declared operational four years later, the NRF is designed to provide NATO with a rapid and flexible stand-alone force consisting of land, air and sea components. The force is capable of being deployed within five days anywhere in the world.

But the NRF has so far not been used in a combat zone as NATO members wrangle over its mission and remain unwilling support it with troops.

It has so far been used only a handful of times for humanitarian relief purposes, such as when Hurricane Katrina hit the southern United States in 2005.

Original plans for a 25,000-strong contingent have long been abandoned, with NATO officials now talking about the need to create a permanent "core" surrounded by a flexible amount of troops.

Britain hits out at NATO members

Britain, which has the second-largest force in Afghanistan, criticized NATO members for refusing to strengthen their troop commitments.

Defense Secretary John Hutton slammed the failure of allies to deploy essential equipment to the Afghan operation

"NATO has thousands of helicopters," Hutton said at the meeting "We have only managed to put a very few in Afghanistan and that is an appalling indictment of NATO's inability to get behind very mission-critical operations."

Earlier, Hutton told the Financial Times newspaper that Britain would propose setting up a 3,000-strong permanent defense force for NATO.

The purpose of the force would be to reassure NATO's eastern European allies in the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia last August and to free up additional resources for Afghanistan.

"I hope it might make it easier for NATO to do more in Afghanistan, certain in the knowledge that there is a dedicated homeland security force that will have no other call on its priorities (other) than European homeland security," Hutton told the Financial Times.

Defense ministers were expected to devote much of their discussions to the future of the NRF as talks continue on Friday.

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