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NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Alliance's Security Missions

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2006 – Discussions on the expansion of NATO's mission in Afghanistan and the continued development of the NATO Response Force topped the agenda at a defense ministers meeting here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (seated across table) engage in discussions during defense ministerial meetings in Brussels, Belgium, June 7. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN

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

The defense leaders also discussed NATO support to training Iraqi forces and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

NATO forces in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force are set to be in operational control in southern Afghanistan by summer, U.S. officials said.

In opening the ministerial, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer spoke of the alliance's commitment to Afghanistan. "No one should doubt NATO's commitment to this mission nor our capability to carry it out together with the rest of the international community and the Afghan government," he said.

Once the so-called Phase 3 is complete, NATO forces will begin assuming control of areas in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. forces maintain security in this area under the auspices of Regional Command East. Once NATO forces assume control there in Phase 4 of the NATO expansion, the Americans will make up the largest group of troops under the International Security Assistance Force.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, here attending the ministerial meeting, said he believes it's too soon to set a deadline for Phase 4 implementation. "Phase 4 ought to, in my view and I think everyone's view, depend on: 'Have you fully resourced Stage 3?' and, 'Are you in place, and how's it going?'"

He said the ministers have worked out command-and-control and rules-of-engagement details for Phase 4, but Phase 3 needs to be finished before the next phase can be resourced.

The NATO ministers met today with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. Wardak thanked the ministers for inviting him and praised the international troops serving in his country.

NATO also is coordinating with four non-NATO allies -- Sweden, Finland, Australia and Japan -- on providing further assistance to NATO missions. A U.S. defense official explained that although these four countries are not part of the alliance, they have said they wish to contribute more to NATO missions. They want a greater partnership with NATO because they share the same threats, values and principles as NATO countries and bring valuable capabilities to the mission, the official said.

U.S. officials traveling with Rumsfeld said they are encouraged by the progress of the NATO Response Force, a standing rapid-reaction force. The United States proposed the response force during a 2002 NATO meeting in Prague, Czech Republic. The force basically fulfills the same role as a Marine expeditionary unit: It's able to stand up and deploy anywhere in the world within five days and then sustain itself for 30 days.

A NATO spokesman today said the NATO response force was invaluable in providing nearly immediate relief to victims of an October 2005 earthquake that devastated remote areas of Pakistan.

The work of the defense ministers here this week will lay the groundwork for a NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, later this year. U.S. officials hope to build consensus among defense ministers on several initiatives so the heads of state and government can agree to them in Riga.

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Donald H. Rumsfeld

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International Security Assistance Force

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