Gates to Attend NATO Meetings, Munich Security Conference
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will head to Europe tonight to attend NATO meetings in Seville, Spain, and to address the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, in Munich, Germany.
NATO’s agenda during the informal defense ministers meetings, scheduled for tomorrow and Feb. 9, will focus on the way ahead for NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, the alliance’s continuing military transformation, NATO-Russia cooperation, and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
Gates will address more than 200 delegates at the Munich conference, scheduled to run Feb. 9-11. Each year, international defense leaders, U.S. Congress members and a host of security experts gather to discuss common security concerns. This year’s theme is “Global Crisis -- Global Responsibilities.”
Much of the discussion at the NATO meetings in Seville will focus on Afghanistan, a senior U.S. defense official said on background yesterday. At present, about 32,000 NATO troops make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, he said. This includes about 13,000 U.S. troops. Another 8,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops are conducting training and counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan.
Gates, who traveled to Afghanistan two weeks ago, will present some of his observations to the NATO allies, the official said. During a helicopter ride to a forward-operating base near Pakistan, the secretary was pleasantly surprised by the amount of progress he saw in terms of roads and other construction progress, the official noted.
The secretary also plans to discuss U.S. steps to counter a spring offensive in Afghanistan and to see what allies are considering contributing to the effort, the official said.
This week, U.S. Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, supreme allied commander in Europe, released a combined joint statement of requirements on what’s needed for the fight in terms of troop levels, equipment and support personnel. All of the allies’ ministers and chiefs of defense are being asked to review the requirements to see what each country could contribute, the defense official said.
Gates also is interested in ensuring that allies are sharing best practices, both militarily and in reconstruction and development efforts, the official said.
NATO foreign ministers met at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Jan. 26 to discuss a comprehensive approach involving economic, political and military elements to further progress in Afghanistan, the defense official said. Most of the allies offered additional reconstruction assistance, he said, while others offered trainers to work with the Afghan national security forces.
The United States, Denmark and several other NATO countries indicated their intention to send more troops and to increase aid and civilian personnel to boost reconstruction and development efforts, according to NATO officials.
During the NATO ministerial in Riga, Latvia, in late November, the U.S. senior defense official noted, the allies agreed to an increased level of effort for the Afghanistan mission and greater cooperation between allies in both military operations and reconstruction and development.
Other topics at the meetings in Seville will include the 25,000-strong NATO Response Force that has now reached full operational capability, operations in Kosovo, and the 10th anniversary of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
U.S. officials will encourage Russia to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO, the official said, so that NATO and Russian forces can participate in Partnership for Peace and other exercises on Russian soil.
Regarding NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, the official said, Gates will likely point out that the NATO allies and the seven Mediterranean countries share common security concerns and that they should be working together to address them. There are many tools and resources available that these nations could use to best develop their relations with NATO and to better develop their own armed forces, the official said.