US tones down aid appeals to NATO allies
( AP ) - Shifting tactics, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that the Bush administration has decided to tone down its appeals to NATO allies for more troops and other aid in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
After two days of talks here with his counterparts from Britain, Canada and five other NATO countries whose troops are doing the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan's violent south, Gates said he would continue making the case for greater allied military assistance.
But he said he would be doing it differently, keeping in mind the "political realities" faced by some European governments whose people may see less reason to intervene in Afghanistan.
"We're going to try to look at this more creatively than perhaps we have done in the past when we basically have just been hammering on (allied governments) to provide more," Gates said in a post-meeting interview with a small group of reporters traveling with him from Washington.
He said there would be "brainstorming" for ideas on how to enable some NATO allies to contribute more. He cited, as an example, the possibility that an ally that has helicopters but insufficient resources to outfit them for the harsh environment of Afghanistan might get the money from another NATO country to upgrade the aircraft.
Gates has been pressing for months - without success so far - to get 16 more helicopters into southern Afghanistan to relieve a U.S. helicopter unit that will be leaving soon.
Gates also has pressed to fill other needs, including 3,500 NATO trainers for the Afghan police as well as a minimum of three battalions of ground troops. He said those gaps were discussed in Edinburgh but the countries represented here were not asked to contribute more, since they already are bearing the brunt of the military load, along with the United States.
He noted that the Dutch defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, told the meeting that his government has recommended to parliament that Dutch troops extend their service in Afghanistan another two years.
Britain has the largest foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan, other than the United States, with about 7,800. There are about 26,000 U.S. troops there.
Asked whether the Bush administration was considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the event that the shortfalls are not bridged by NATO allies, Gates replied, "Not in the short term."
At the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Sherlock Jr., director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that Gates' efforts are focused on finding NATO allies to make commitments to fill requirements that no one has yet stepped up to claim.
"He's not ready to let NATO and individual NATO members off the hook just yet," Sherlock said.
Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who joined Gates at the conference, told reporters afterward that he and his counterparts agreed that the nonmilitary part of the effort to stabilize Afghanistan also needs to be re-energized and improved.
"There was a strong sense that the civilian side, run by all of our governments and by the U.N., needs now to be elevated and expanded and be made as strategically purposeful as what we see on the military side," Burns said.
Gates said the Edinburgh talks produced a consensus on the need to fashion an "integrated plan" for what needs to be achieved in Afghanistan within the next three to five years as well as specifics on how those things can be accomplished.