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Opinion: Despite Divide, NATO Has Common Goal in Afghanistan

Some NATO members are calling for more troops in southern Afghanistan, while the Germans want to stay comfortably in the North. But no one wants to see the country fail, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

Opinion

It was the usual game: Before nearly every important NATO meeting, the US and the other countries involved militarily in southern and eastern Afghanistan put pressure on the rest of the NATO members to send more troops.

The German government then refuses once again to send Bundeswehr soldiers to the more hostile South and tensions rise before the meeting.

During the talks, however, things are usually not half as bad as expected. And that's how it turned out this time, too.

US downplays demand for troops

Bernd Riegert

At the defense ministers' meeting in Vilnius, everyone agreed that NATO as a whole has to do more in Afghanistan. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the evil media had exaggerated everything and he had just sent a cordial letter to all his fellow ministers -- not only to the German defense minister.

The Pentagon chief suddenly showed understanding for the difficulties of coalition governments, like the one in Berlin made up of Conservatives and Social Democrats.

Even though tensions may have eased, the problem remains.

NATO still doesn't have the additional troops for Afghanistan that the military leaders wanted. The tedious search for willing contributors will continue.

Who is willing to go?

German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung got surprised reactions when he said that France, Poland and Romania would fill the gap with several thousand soldiers. No one had heard about that except for him -- an embarrassing misunderstanding.

Once again, Vilnius demonstrated the attitude that the Danish defense minister had put into words: If we wanted to, we could.

The NATO states have the means, but are lacking the political will.

Germany must discuss whether it's ready to send more soldiers into the hot-spots in Hindu Kush. The government won't be able to explain to its allies much longer why the Germans are so poshly reserved when it comes to dangerous combat.

Other countries like Italy and Spain do the same thing, but they are also criticized for it. The Dutch and Canadians are justified in asking, Why us and not you, too?

No immediate crisis for NATO

Nevertheless, NATO is not about to split or even collapse. Despite all the disagreements over division of labor, one thing is clear: The Afghanistan mission cannot fail.

The international community can't afford another failed state in this sensitive region. That's just what the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Co. are waiting for.

Bernd Riegert is a DW-RADIO correspondent in Brussels. (kjb)

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