Defense Ministers Looking to Expand NATO's Role in Afghanistan
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 6, 2004 NATO defense ministers meeting here today discussed expanding the role of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"NATO's first priority is to get Afghanistan right," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a late-afternoon press conference. "We have no choice in Afghanistan but to meet our commitments to the people of that country and to the international community."
NATO is in command of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, the country's capital. Almost 8,000 NATO troops are involved in this mission.
The first step in expanding the alliance's role there could be to stand up five additional provincial reconstruction teams under NATO command. Scheffer explained that no decisions were made during today's ministerial meeting, but that a decision on this proposal was likely to be made during the NATO heads- of-government summit scheduled for Istanbul, Turkey, in June.
Thirteen such PRTs are operating or in the process of being developed throughout Afghanistan, according to a senior U.S. official. German troops manage one in Konduz; the United Kingdom manages one in Mazar-e Sharif; New Zealand has control of a third team in the central part of Afghanistan; "and the others are American, either already on the ground or going to be constructed," the official said.
Several countries have stepped forward to volunteer troops and other assets to the additional five teams. The U.S. official said Sweden, which is not a NATO member but a strong partner, and Norway are considering collaborating on a Nordic-run PRT. Other potential sponsors are Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey and the Netherlands.
"I was pleased that in our meetings today a number of countries stepped forward volunteering to lead or to participate in additional new PRTs in Afghanistan," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a separate press conference.
Beyond establishing five new PRTs, the next question NATO members consider could be whether the alliance should assume command of all other existing such teams in Afghanistan. The U.S. official estimated a decision could come on this proposal in the later part of 2004.
He said Rumsfeld had floated the proposal during bilateral security talks earlier in the day with the defense ministers of Germany and Canada.
"As the efforts progress, we will look at asking NATO to take on still additional responsibilities in other parts of Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said during his press conference. "And we're hoping for the possibility that eventually to turn the military operation in Afghanistan over to the alliance."