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NATO summit ends with recognition of progress - and need for more trainers - in Afghanistan

The NATO defense alliance finished its latest summit in Brussels knowing that it needs more military staff who can train Afghan security forces. But how is it going to provide them?

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during a media conference

Rasmussen said training will be an important part of future missions

Defense ministers wrapping up a two-day NATO summit in Brussels welcomed improvements in the security situation in Afghanistan, but also acknowledged the need for member countries to provide more military trainers to work with Afghan troops.

"We welcomed the significant improvement in the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, and are committed to providing the trainers needed to support that steady progress," ministers said in a joint declaration on Friday.

But the ministers didn't commit to offering specific numbers of troops.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force includes about 120,000 soldiers from 28 NATO member states - including Germany - and another 18 allies. But the training mission lacks about 20 percent of the personnel it needs - a shortfall of 450 trainers.

In February, the German parliament voted to send up to 850 troops in addition to the 4,300 already there. It also agreed to send extra police trainers and to increase the proportion of troops focusing on training from 280 to 1,400.

An expanding role

A German police officer watches Afghan trainees perform excercises

Germany recently agreed to increase its number of police trainers

NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told reporters that training would likely play a growing role in the defense alliance's future missions.

"It's quite a new thing for NATO allies to engage in such training missions... We have to adapt our alliance to this new task to train and educate local forces in a country like Afghanistan, and I think we will deal with this aspect in the new strategic concept," Rasmussen said after the talks.

Rasmussen said that allies were ready to help, but stymied by a lack of qualified officers who could do the training.

In the defense ministers final statement, they hailed "measured progress" in the nine-year war while noting that "significant challenges remain, and success is not yet assured."

"Operations across Afghanistan are making measured progress in extending the reach of the Afghan government, changing the political conditions, and marginalizing the insurgency," the ministers said in a statement.

Author: Stephanie Siek (AFP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Nigel Tandy