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Rumsfeld Arrives in Italy for NATO Meetings

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

TAORMINA, Italy, Feb. 9, 2006 – Calling NATO "probably the most impressive military alliance in history," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted the alliance's successes and expressed optimism for its future during a news conference on his overnight flight here from Washington.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Italian Minister of Defense Antonio Martino say goodbye after a bilateral meeting Feb. 9 discussing mutual defense issues in Taormina, Italy, site of a NATO conference defense ministers are attending. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Rumsfeld arrived here this morning for two days of meetings with his NATO counterparts.

"If you think of what they've done, they have contributed mightily to the success in the Cold War," he said about the alliance. "They have undertaken responsibilities in the Balkans successfully - Bosnia and Kosovo."

The secretary also pointed out support NATO gave the U.S. with airborne warning and control system aircraft after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And he mentioned NATO's relief efforts in Pakistan after the Oct. 8, 2005, earthquake devastation.

"They have taken a significant responsibility for the first time in history outside of the NATO treaty area and outside of Europe by the Afghanistan activity," Rumsfeld said. In addition, he said, the alliance's 26 nations have taken on responsibility for training and equipping Iraq's security forces.

"That is an enormous shift for this organization, which historically was a defensive organization worried only about the NATO treaty area and Europe," he said.

Rumsfeld cited NATO's ever-increasing role in Afghanistan as an example of a forward-moving alliance. "It began with ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, which was essentially in Kabul," he said. "It then expanded to the north, and then to the west. They're now in the process of expanding to the south. They have plans on the table to eventually, at some point either this year or next, expand over to the east."

Though NATO's footprint in Afghanistan eventually will cover all regions of the country, Rumsfeld said, he emphasized that counterterrorism is not the alliance's role there. The Operation Enduring Freedom coalition - which does include some NATO countries - handles counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. "To my recollection, NATO has not indicated any interest in absorbing that activity, and I think that's fine," he said.

Even as NATO's role continues to grow in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said, he wouldn't tie that as a single factor to any reduction in U.S. troop levels there. "NATO is increasing their role; that's a good thing," he said. "The Afghan security forces are increasing their role, and that's a good thing. The political process is moving forward in Afghanistan, and that's a good thing. The demobilization of militias has moved forward, and that's a good thing.

"And all of those things," he continued, "have enabled us to announce that we're going to be reducing from three to two brigades in Afghanistan. But it's a combination of all of those elements, and not the one."

The secretary, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO in the early 1970s, said that as much as NATO has done, he knows it can do more.

Rumsfeld repeated what he expressed Feb. 4 at a security conference in Munich: that he'd like to see NATO's member nations contribute a higher percentage of their gross domestic product to security, citing the current average of less than 2 percent. He also said he'd like to see NATO countries step up to a larger peacekeeping and partnership-building role in the world.

"I think there are other things NATO could do," he said, "and I suspect that if we transported ourselves out five or 10 years and looked back, we'd find in fact NATO will be doing some of those things to a greater extent than they are today." Rumsfeld told reporters that attaining full operational capability for the NATO Response Force this fall will be among the major discussion areas during the informal meetings of NATO defense ministers.

The force now numbers roughly 17,000 troops, depending on the ebbs and flows of six-month rotations. NATO's goal is for the force to attain full operational capability in October with 25,000 troops ready to start to deploy after five days' notice and sustain itself for operations lasting 30 days, or longer if resupplied.

"The secretary-general of NATO has been encouraging the NATO countries to step up and provide the remaining pieces that are needed," he said, "and I certainly wish that as well."

In addition to the NATO meetings, a NATO-Russia Council meeting and a Mediterranean dialogue also will take place here, the secretary said.

Rumsfeld will have bilateral meetings today with Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino and British Defense Minister John Reid, sandwiched around a meeting of the North Atlantic Council devoted to NATO's transformation and operations. This evening, he said, he hopes to meet with the new defense ministers of Canada and Estonia.

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