Gates Urges More Support in Terror War, Says He Will Press NATO
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KYIV, Ukraine, Oct. 22, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today thanked fellow participants in the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial conference for their support in Iraq and Afghanistan and told the group he plans to press NATO to live up to its commitments in Afghanistan.
Gates, speaking with SEDM members at their 12th conference, expressed frustration that some NATO countries still haven’t followed through with troop commitments made at the 2006 NATO session in Riga, Latvia.
“I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen can’t find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan,” he said during a news conference.
“I intend to pursue this in our meetings in the Netherlands,” Gates said, referring to the upcoming NATO informal ministerial conference in Noordwijk, Oct. 24 and 25.
Gates praised members of the SEDM group, some also NATO members, for their support in the Middle East.
“I would especially like to thank Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine for the forces they have contributed in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said in his opening statement to the group.
Gates said several ministers approached him today expressing their countries’ intent to increase their troop contributions, mostly in Afghanistan. Some of these countries still “have certain hurdles to clear at home” before they are able to make their additional force contributions public, he told reporters at a news conference.
In addition, Slovakia, which sent a representative to SEDM to observe the proceedings as an invited guest, shared plans to send at least 47 more troops to Afghanistan. The Slovakian representative told Gates these additional forces will serve with Dutch forces in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. This will bring Slovakia’s troop contribution in Afghanistan to 125 in 2008.
“I encourage all allies and partners to contribute as much as they can, especially in support of our efforts in Afghanistan,” Gates told the ministers.
Particularly needed, he said, are more operational mentoring and liaison teams to help build an effective, self-sustaining Afghan National Army and additional provincial reconstruction teams where none currently exist.
Gates pointed to SEDM’s deployment last year of its Southeastern European Brigade, or SEEBRIG, to Afghanistan as an example of the group’s important contributions to the terror war. SEDM deployed the 100-troop headquarters element for a six-month rotation with the Kabul Multinational Brigade in Afghanistan.
“This deployment showed that SEDM can make an important contribution. More importantly, it showed that partners can come together and collectively contribute to help bring stability to a place far from home,” Gates said. “More of this should be encouraged.”
Gates acknowledged some SEDM members’ interest in deploying the brigade again. “It is understandable that SEDM members who have contributed personnel, equipment and funding to SEEBRIG would like to see it deploy again,” he said.
However, he urged an assessment of the brigade, which was stood up in 1999. Before another deployment, “we should take an honest look at SEEBRIG’s capabilities, shortcomings and requirements, and carefully review the assets SEEBRIG nations contribute to the brigade,” he said.
SEEBRIG operates under a Multinational Peace Force Southeastern Europe agreement that was signed by Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania and Turkey. Ukraine joined the agreement during today’s SEDM meeting.