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Gates to Discuss Afghanistan Progress, Missile Defense at NATO Session

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 13, 2007 – Although great strides have been made in boosting Afghanistan’s economic development and reconstruction, the U.S. defense secretary said he will continue to urge partners within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to continue their efforts.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates presents the Purple Heart medal to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brent A. Homan for wounds received in action, June 11, in Ballad, Iraq. Gates visited several military members at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, June 13, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Robert M. Gates spoke to members of the Pentagon press corps today after arriving in Brussels, Belgium, to attend a two-day formal session of 26 NATO countries to discuss topics such as NATO organization, missile defense and operations in Afghanistan.

Gates said he will push for the alliance to continue working to fulfill the commitments it made to Afghanistan during the summit in Riga, Latvia, in November 2006 that called for broader international engagement in the war-torn country.

“We tried to galvanize to pre-empt what was anticipated to be a major spring offensive by the Taliban,” he said. “It’s clear that the spring offensive was NATO’s, and (International Security Assistance Force’s), not the Taliban’s.”

In late February, when NATO forces predicted the increase in insurgent activity, coalition forces worked with more intensity to ensure they could protect themselves against such attacks.

“The reality is the activities going on in Afghanistan this spring, in my opinion, are quite positive, both in the security situation in the number of countries stepping up to provide (provincial reconstruction teams) and (operational mentor and liaison teams) to help economic reconstruction and development,” he said.

The secretary said he will also continue to stress the importance of training teams for the Afghan police force. He said two-thirds of the requested trainers are for the nation’s police force.

In addition to needing more trainers, senior defense officials have said there is still a gap in the maneuver forces ISAF has and the forces it needs in order to continue to make progress in the country. Officials estimate that nearly four more combat battalions will be needed to go into Afghanistan.

The secretary is also expected to request more assistance in the form of enablers, such a helicopters and equipment, for Afghan troops to provide for the nation’s security, officials said.

In addition to speaking about Afghanistan, Gates said that he looks forward to working with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdvukoy during the NATO sessions to continue discussions that began with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-8 summit held early this month in regards to missile defense systems.

“I’m very pleased that President Putin acknowledges that there is merit to missile defense and that Iran does represent a problem that needs to be dealt with in terms of potential missile defense,” Gates said.

Gates said he plans to underscore America’s interest in exploring these issues with the Russian president by continuing to encourage a sharing of data on the topic.

Before arriving in Brussels, Gates stopped in Stuttgart, Germany, where he received a briefing on the status of the U.S. European Command. He also visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Ramstein Air Base, where he presented six Purple Heart medals to wounded troops recovering there.

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Robert M. Gates

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