Gates to Discuss Need to Boost NATO Forces in Afghanistan
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will discuss the need for more NATO forces in Afghanistan when he attends a defense ministers meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, later this week, a senior Defense Department official said here today. (Video)
The 26 NATO-affiliated defense ministers are expected to discuss the alliance’s mission in Kosovo, European missile defense, relations with Russia and the war in Afghanistan during informal meetings held Feb. 7-8, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters at a news conference.
In Vilnius, Gates “will take the opportunity to personally explain to his NATO colleagues why he is sending another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan next month,” Morrell said.
Gates is expected to urge NATO members “to do their part to make sure all of the commanders’ outstanding military requirements” in Afghanistan are fulfilled, Morrell said. There’s currently about a 4,000-troop shortfall for Afghanistan missions, the press secretary noted.
“Success in Afghanistan is essential, not just to our security here, but Europe’s as well,” Morrell emphasized.
Gates will reiterate that theme, Morrell added, when the defense secretary attends the 44th Munich Conference on Security Policy held Feb. 8-10 in Munich, Germany.
In Lithuania and Munich, the defense secretary also is expected to tell defense ministers of the importance of not allowing NATO to become a “two-tiered” security organization where only a portion of members regularly deploy military personnel and material for overseas combat missions.
Also at the news conference, Morrell cited the success of unmanned aerial vehicles used for reconnaissance and other purposes in overseas theaters of operation. Use of UAVs in identifying improvised explosive devices has risen dramatically in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, since Gates became defense secretary in December 2006.
UAVs have “developed into a very valuable asset for commanders on the ground as they go about their offensive operations against our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Morrell pointed out.
Asked about news reports citing Iran’s Feb. 4 launch of a research rocket into space, Morrell noted that missile defense is the topic of one of the NATO meetings in Vilnius.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a Feb. 4 news conference that Iran’s rocket launch “is just another troubling development, in that the kinds of technologies and capabilities that are needed in order to launch a space vehicle for orbit are the same kinds of capabilities and technologies that one would employ for long-range ballistic missiles.”
As Iran continues to develop its ballistic missile program, “Europe becomes more and more threatened by it,” Morrell pointed out.
Rising concerns about Iran’s ballistic-missile technology have prompted the proposal to install missile interceptors in Poland, and related radar sites in the Czech Republic. Both nations are NATO members.
“To us, it makes all the more clear the need for a missile defense program to protect our allies in Europe as well as ourselves,” Morrell said. “So, hopefully this will impress upon on the Poles and the Czechs and all of Europe that we need to proceed with our negotiations as quickly as possible.”
That negotiation process is continuing, and progress has been made “on all fronts,” Morrell reported.