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Gates ‘heartened’ by NATO’s Afghanistan boost

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that NATO allies are moving toward sending more troops and civilian aid to Afghanistan.
Slovakia Nato Defense Ministers
U.S. Secretary for Defense Robert Gates, second left, shares a word with General Stanley McChrystal, right, during a round table meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday. Virginia Mayo / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that NATO allies are moving toward sending more troops and civilian aid to Afghanistan.

Gates said he was "heartened" by allies' commitment to the 8-year-old war even as the Obama administration mulls whether to order tens of thousands more U.S. troops to the fight.

The Pentagon chief cited a long-term commitment by NATO partners to remain in Afghanistan until the conflict is successfully resolved.

At a meeting of 28 NATO defense ministers in Bratislava, Gates said he did not seek specific promises of military assistance, and none was given. He described, however, "a renewed determination to see this through."

"There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both," Gates said at a news conference. "And I found that very heartening."

He praised NATO nations for already doubling the number of troops they have sent to Afghanistan over the last 15 months. "People really have been stepping up to this," Gates said.

Gates also sought to assure allies that the United States also will remain in the fight, despite the Obama administration's ongoing indecision over a war strategy.

"We're not pulling out," he said. "I think that any reduction is very unlikely."

He said President Barack Obama would consider specific plans for moving forward over the next two to three weeks.

Speaking minutes earlier, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the defense ministers did not discuss precisely how many more troops might be sent. The U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked Obama for as many as 80,000 additional American troops to continue the current mission of countering the escalating Taliban insurgency and protecting the local population.

Nations wait for Obama's move
Rasmussen said McChrystal's request was being reviewed by NATO leaders, many of whom are reluctant to endorse large troop increases before Obama decides on a strategy.

"I have registered broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach, but without discussing resource implications of these recommendations," Rasmussen said.

The top U.N. official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, also signaled that more NATO troops would soon be on the move. "I do believe that additional international troops will be needed in the future," he said.

Gates spoke before heading into a lunch meeting with officials from nations that have sent troops to Afghanistan. McChrystal also was at the meeting to brief the officials on his on-the-ground assessment of the war zone.

An estimated 104,000 U.S. and NATO troops will be in Afghanistan by the end of the year — two-thirds of which are American.

Afghanistan's political uncertainty
Other officials, however, expressed doubts about sending more forces amid widespread concerns of corruption tainting Afghanistan's government and its president, Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan will hold a runoff of its presidential election on Nov. 7 to settle allegations of fraud that marred an August balloting between Karzai and his chief rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said his country, with 2,160 troops in Afghanistan, is awaiting the final election results "because the legitimacy of the Afghan government is key," as well as a decision by the Obama administration.

Danish Defense Minister Soeren Gade said allies won't increase troop levels until they're assured the new government in Kabul is committed to the NATO goals.

"I think whoever is going to send more troops to Afghanistan will put up some conditions," said Gade, whose country has 690 soldiers in Afghanistan.

"They need to see the new Afghan president and say: 'If we send more troops to your country, you have to deal with this, this and this.' We have to make sure the new government in Afghanistan are committed to their job before we send any more troops to Afghanistan."

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung of Germany said he also doesn't expect his country to increase its troop numbers in Afghanistan when the soldiers' mandate from the German parliament comes up for renewal in December. The existing mandate allows the deployment of a maximum 4,500 soldiers, and Germany currently has just over 4,200 troops in Afghanistan.

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