By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON — A year after NATO’s International Security Assistance Force took full command of security operations in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday he’s concerned that NATO has lagged behind in fulfilling its commitments there.
The biggest shortfall is NATO’s unfulfilled requirement for 3,200 trainers, principally to train Afghan police, Gates told Pentagon reporters.
“We have been very direct with a number of the NATO allies about the need to meet the commitments that they made at Riga,” Gates said, referring to the NATO summit in Latvia in late November.
Gates said he’s extended the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan in several cases “to give NATO a few more months to find replacements,” but added that now he is ready to hold the line. “I have made pretty clear that I will be loathe to make further extensions where somebody else is not fulfilling the requirement,” he said.
The issue is expected to be a major topic of discussion during the upcoming informal defense minister’s meeting slated for Oct. 24 and 25 in Noordwijk, Netherlands.
The secretary said he has asked for “a review of the commitments the member states have made for Afghanistan and those instances in which they have fallen short,” Gates said. “So it is a matter that we take very seriously. We have been talking directly to a number of our allies.
“Most European governments get it,” Gates added. “They understand how important Afghanistan is, and they are actually eager to try and fulfill the commitments they have made.”
The problem, he said, is that some of these governments are coalition governments, and some are minority governments in a coalition where there’s a lack of appreciation among voters about why Afghanistan is important.
“And so one of the subjects we have been talking about in the alliance is how we do a better job of strategic communications — not just in Afghanistan, but in Europe — in terms of what this conflict in Afghanistan is all about and the impact that it has on European security,” Gates said. “So it is an issue and it is a concern.”
The United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force is helping the Afghan government extend and exercise its authority and influence across the country. The goal is to create the conditions for stabilization and reconstruction. In support of that mission, NATO’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe, the alliance is leading some 35,000 troops from 37 countries and 25 provincial reconstruction teams.