Questions outweigh answers as NATO ministers meet

7th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Ministers agree that the Alliance must do better in Afghanistan but not on how.

Vilnius -- NATO's defence ministers agreed on Thursday that the alliance must strengthen its efforts in Afghanistan, but fell short of offering concrete solutions to specific problems, an alliance spokesman said.

"There was clearly a sense around the table that there are shortfalls that need to be met and we need to move as quickly as possible to meet them," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told journalists after the first working session in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

But the talks were "not about getting commitments from ministers to send troops," he added, saying only that "hopefully we will see nations come forward with further offers as quickly as possible."

NATO's operation in Afghanistan needs more combat troops in the volatile south. It also lacks heavy transport aircraft, helicopters and unmanned spy aircraft, ministers agreed.

The alliance should further focus on convincing the public that the UN-mandated mission is not "just NATO's problem," while convincing international groups to commit more resources to the country, they said.

"The whole world is in Afghanistan in one way or the other," Appathurai said. NATO ministers are met to meet with representatives of the UN, EU and World Bank on Friday.

Ministers agreed that NATO is in Afghanistan for the long term, and that it had made more progress in bringing stability to the country than reports suggest. Many expressed "cautious optimism" over the progress of operations, Appathurai said.

But they also admitted that the alliance would have to provide more men and equipment and reinforce its training of Afghan troops if it wanted to hand over security to local forces.

"We have over 30 Operational Mentoring and Liaison (training) Teams (OMLeTs), but we have a shortfall, and we need to meet that as quickly as possible," Appathurai said. Officials have in the past said that NATO needs 47 OMLeTs in the country.

The meeting has been overshadowed by a row between those states, which have taken most casualties in Afghanistan, and those who will not allow their troops into the dangerous southern provinces.

Late on Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said "I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security, and others who are not."

Four of NATO's member states - the US, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands - are heavily engaged fighting the Taliban in the south. They have repeatedly called on other NATO allies for reinforcements.

"What we want to see is more of a one-for-all approach, that includes of course burden sharing in the south," Canada's Defence Minister Peter Mackay said before the meeting.

But some allies - notably Germany, which has over 3,000 men in Afghanistan - refuse to send their men into the south, saying that their political mandate to the troops precludes such an action.

"I think that we are making a full and complete contribution to Afghanistan," Germany's Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said.

Officials played down the importance of the dispute on Thursday, with Appathurai stressing that "there is no lack of solidarity" on the issue.

DPA with Expatica

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