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Gates Says Meetings to Focus on Afghanistan, Russia, Transformation

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Oct. 6, 2008 – While the alliance’s transformation is the scheduled topic of discussion at a NATO defense ministerial conference this week in Budapest, Hungary, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that Afghanistan and Russia also will be high on the agenda.

In Budapest, Gates told reporters traveling with him, the principal issue is getting Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s recommendations institutionalizing NATO’s transformation. Gates said he wants to strengthen the hand of the secretary general in leading the alliance and managing changes in th NATO headquarters structure. Building on discussions they had in London on Sept. 18, he said, the alliance’s defense ministers will determine whether there NATO’s footprint should change in terms of headquarters around Europe.

NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan and the continued need for more forces in the country also will be high on the agenda in Budapest, Gates said. “I want everyone to understand that the increases in U.S. forces are not seen as replacements for NATO contributions, but are reinforcements,” he said. “We not only want those who have made the contributions to continue them, but continue to look for opportunities to increase non-U.S. NATO forces there.”

The United States is by far the largest manpower donor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, providing more than 20,000 of the 50,700 total troops in Afghanistan from 41 nations.

The United Kingdom has 8,330 servicemembers in Afghanistan. Germany has 3,310, France has 2,750, Canada has 2,500, Italy has 2,350 and the Netherlands has 1,770.

Poland has 1,130 troops in Afghanistan, Australia has 1,080, Denmark has 750, Romania has 725, Belgium has 420 and Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia each has 70. A total of 26 other nations have troops in the country.

The highest manpower priority at this point, the secretary said, is for trainers.

“Our objective is to expand the size of the Afghan army significantly, and necessarily key to that is people to train them,” he said. “It’s important for us, and it should be important for the allies.”

Gates said that countries that do not have significant troop commitments in Afghanistan – and not just NATO nations – should consider contributing to the cost of expanding the size of the Afghan army.

Gates said NATO faces significant challenges in Afghanistan, but “there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run.”

He said the basics of a counterinsurgency campaign will work in Afghanistan the same way they did in Iraq. What is important, he said, is detaching members of the opposition – those Afghans who now support the insurgents – from the terrorists. Gates said the strategy is “detaching those who are reconcilable and are willing to be part of the future of the country from those who are irreconcilable and who have to be dealt with militarily.”

Gates also is traveling to Macedonia this week to attend a southeastern Europe defense ministers conference.

Russia’s military action in Georgia will be an important topic in Macedonia, Gates said. Gates said he is pleased that the Russians finally appear to be fulfilling the commitment they made to French President Nikolas Sarkozy in mid-August to withdraw its forces from Georgia.

“We need to figure out the right path in terms of the reality that we have to do business with Russia on important issues, but at the same time to convey the message that it really can’t be business as usual after what happened in Georgia,” Gates said.

Gates said he believes that the alliance’s relationships and activities need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. “I think making broad pronouncements about suspending this or suspending that … is probably not the best way to deal with this,” he said.

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