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NATO Defense Ministers Gather in Slovenia to Discuss Afghanistan, Other Issues

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

PORTOROZ, Slovenia, Sept. 28, 2006 – NATO’s operations in Afghanistan will be among the key topics here today and tomorrow as the alliance’s defense ministers hold their last informal meeting before this fall’s formal NATO Summit planned in Riga, Latvia.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his 25 counterparts will discuss Afghanistan and other operational issues, transformation and the Riga summit agenda, followed by a formal meeting tomorrow of the NATO-Russia Council.

Afghanistan heads the list of operational matters under discussion, a senior Defense Department official told reporters on background. The ministers likely will discuss how the fight against the Taliban is going, as well as NATO’s security and stabilization mission in Afghanistan and a timetable for NATO to assume operational control in the eastern part of the country from the coalition, the official said. NATO already has taken over operations in Afghanistan’s north, west and south.

Discussions also will include what individual NATO countries can to do make their forces more available for the Afghanistan mission, the official said, either by providing more forces or by reducing “caveats” -- operational restrictions -- that affect how the forces of all but six NATO nations can be used in Afghanistan.

A senior U.S. government official said today’s meeting might yield an announcement of a NATO effort to help in equipping the Afghan National Army. The initiative would provide a mechanism within NATO for allies to donate surplus equipment they have available that matches identified needs of the ANA.

NATO’s Kosovo Force also should come up in operational discussions, the official said, noting that a recent reorganization into five task forces allows commanders to use the 16,000-member force more effectively throughout the sector.

Tomorrow’s session on capabilities and initiatives will be a progress report in anticipation of the Riga Summit.

Among the subjects likely to be discussed, the DoD official said, is progress in strategic airlift capability in the form of at least three C-17 Globemaster III transports. As the official explained it to reporters, fourteen NATO allies, including the alliance’s 10 newest members, have agreed to share the cost of buying the giant jets -- each with a price tag of about $225 million plus the cost of training. The participating allies would be able to use the aircraft for their own military airlift needs, and the aircraft would be available to NATO for short-notice contingencies.

The ministers also will discuss what’s needed to ensure the NATO Response Force reaches full operational capability and can then be sustained at that state, the official said.

In addition to participating in the ministerial conference events, Rumsfeld is scheduled to meet individually with several NATO defense ministers as well as with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

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Donald H. Rumsfeld

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