Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gates Asks NATO to Follow Through on Promises

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates tossed away his script Thursday and told European defense ministers in Brussels that soldiers are dying in Afghanistan because the European governments are not living up to their promises. He pointed out that U.S. casualties for May in Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq for the first time. That, he told ministers assembled for a NATO conference, fuels his passion on the subject.

Gates has been pushing for months for NATO nations to follow through on promises made earlier to increase their participation in Afghanistan. But the alliance's International Security Assistance Force is still short three battalions of troops. The NATO effort to provide security in Afghanistan also needs trainers and enablers, such as helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

"I know I've been a big nag and I know I've been a pain... but for NATO to continue to be tied up in politics and issues between governments that are irrelevant to whether we are making progress in Afghanistan, I don't have patience anymore," he told his NATO counterparts. "I really have limited patience for these kinds of surrogate debates."

The U.S. simply expects governments' actions to match their rhetoric, he said. The troop shortages have caused gaps in the security in Afghanistan. "We've got kids dying because of these gaps," he said. A U.S. military official said the assessment in Afghanistan is that the problem can be addressed, but it will take longer without more troops. There are currently 52,700 troops from 40 countries serving in the NATO-led ISAF.

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