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Europe urged to help more in Iraq, Afghanistan

The United States says it expected European countries to come up with offers of help in Iraq and Afghanistan at a NATO meeting Thursday to discuss the alliance's role in those countries.
Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. General James L. Jones, right, shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, center, looks on during the start of the North Atlantic Council foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on Thursday.Yves Logghe / AP
/ Source: Reuters

The United States said it expected European countries to come up with offers of help in Iraq and Afghanistan at a NATO meeting on Thursday to discuss the alliance's role in the insurgency-hit countries.

Without referring to any countries by name, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also called for a greater European role by telling allied foreign ministers that transatlantic ties depended on a fair burden-sharing of security tasks.

The United States wants European allies to come forward with offers of trainers for a NATO-run military academy to be set up near Baghdad, and troops to widen NATO's existing peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

"I think what you'll see at this ministerial is a number of countries coming forward to contribute — to pledge — both officers and force protection troops to this mission," a senior U.S. official said of the Iraqi training operation.

"I would expect three, four or five countries to make new pledges," he said before Secretary of State Colin Powell attended his last NATO session before he hands over to successor Condoleezza Rice.

NATO has said it is looking for up to 300 trainers to staff the academy and wants to have it up and running by the end of the year. Diplomats say so far only 38 have been pledged.

The official said Washington would also be looking to European allies to help expand coverage of NATO's 8,500 ISAF peacekeeping force westwards from Kabul and the north, where it is currently operating.

Hands full
"The (U.S.-led) coalition has its hands full in the east and the southern part of the country with the Taliban and al-Qaida, so NATO needs to do this," he added of a continued insurgency.

He said a NATO-led force in the west could also serve as starting point for additional troops to provide security ahead of Afghan parliamentary elections expected by early May.

Opening the meeting, de Hoop Scheffer said it was a top priority to bolster U.S.-Europe ties shaken by the opposition of countries such as France and Germany to the war in Iraq.

"We all know the importance of preserving the(transatlantic) consensus in the weeks and months ahead of us. ... This requires a fair burden-sharing among allies," he said.

Germany, one of the most vocal Iraq war opponents, reiterated it would not send troops to Iraq but stressed it was helping in other ways.

"Our position is clear and that is we shall not be sending any troops to Iraq," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters.

"On the other hand, we started training (in the United Arab Emirates) while others were simply scratching their heads," he added of German training of Iraqi military personnel outside of Iraq. He noted Germany had also offered Iraq debt relief.

France, Belgium, Spain and Greece have also declined to send any military trainers to Iraq.