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Three NATO Countries Pledge More Troops for Afghanistan

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 1, 2003 – Three NATO countries agreed today to send more troops to Afghanistan in the first morning of meetings among the alliance's defense ministers here.

Senior U.S. officials said that because the countries' parliaments must first formalize the commitments, no announcement on the identity of the countries and their specific pledges was likely to occur during the two-day ministerial conference.

The first meeting of the day brought the defense ministers together with NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. The meeting included what one official called "a good discussion of Afghanistan," as well as the importance of the alliance having "usable" forces organized and equipped to meet 21st-centuray threats.

Robertson has advocated expansion of NATO's contributions in Afghanistan beyond the capital city of Kabul with more provincial reconstruction teams operating in the country. Eventually, U.S. officials said, NATO might absorb U.S. Central Command's Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. They cautioned, however, that such a result would be a long way down the road if it were to happen at all, and the notion is in only the earliest stages of thought and discussion.

The meeting with Robertson also included preparation for the alliance's next summit meeting, scheduled for May in Istanbul, and progress in NATO's efforts to streamline its command structure as it brings down its total number of commands from 20 to 11. As NATO's transformation continues, one official said, the alliance has seen more changes in the last two years than it had seen in the previous decade.

NATO's Nuclear Planning Committee met later in the morning, as the ministers discussed concern over the proliferation of nuclear weapons, most notably in North Korea and Iran. One official said no one in the meeting challenged the U.S. view that Iran's claim of needing nuclear power is a "thin and implausible" cover story for a nuclear weapons program.

Other Nuclear Planning Committee discussions included the need for more capability-based and deployable forces and how member countries can convert their forces and reinvest money earmarked for forces that aren't organized and equipped to handle 21st century threats, officials said. The ministers also talked about the NATO Response Force that became operational in October, how the alliance can improve its decision-making processes, and progress toward the alliance's goal of reducing its headquarters staff by 30 percent, a senior Defense Department official said.

The defense ministers' conference continues through Dec. 2.

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