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Ministers Approve Drug Network Attacks, Increasing Alliance Readiness

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Oct. 10, 2008 – NATO defense ministers approved a proposal that will allow the International Security Assistance Force soldiers in Afghanistan to shut down drug networks that funnel money to the Taliban.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he was pleased with the result of the defense ministers conference here.

“I think we accomplished a fair amount,” he said. “I’m quite satisfied with the outcome on counter-narcotics -- going after the networks of those who fund the Taliban.”

Gates said the alliance has stepped forward in Afghanistan. He said when alliance nations voted at the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, in 2006 to assume the security mission in Afghanistan, the situation was more promising.

“We experienced an upsurge of violence in the spring of 2006, but it really had not been dramatically worse than in the past,” he said. But beginning in 2007, the situation -- particularly in the southern provinces -- was far more dangerous. The NATO-led force was in for a longer and tougher fight than anticipated.

“What has been impressive to me is that in spite of some significant casualties on the part of our allies, as this situation has gotten more difficult, they have stayed the course and actually increased the number of people they have there,” Gates said. “If I look back in that context, I’m fairly optimistic of the future.”

The NATO allies also have a clear understanding that NATO must not fail in Afghanistan, Gates said. They characterize Afghanistan as “the highest priority operationally for the alliance, and people are dealing with it in that respect,” he added.

The NATO defense ministers also agreed to raise the alliance’s force “deployability level” from 40 percent to 50 percent. Gates had proposed such a move last year.

“There was no formal action on it, but a number of countries told me that they were working to try and adopt the proposal we had made to increase their defense budgets over a period of five years by two-tenths of 1 percent of gross domestic product,” he said. “It’s a small number, but what it represents is changing the trend line in a lot of countries to keeping defense budgets even or even increasing over time.”

The deployability rate measures the percentage of total forces that can be deployed. The 26 NATO nations have about 3.8 million active duty military personnel, with almost 1.4 million of them American.

The alliance has a goal for each country to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Only the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and Albania meet that standard. Gates said he hopes the decision will reverse the downward trend of some nations.

The secretary admitted he had “made the usual pitch” in terms of more forces for Afghanistan. He said a number of countries indicated they intended to increase their forces. Some announced their willingness to send additional operational mentoring and liaison teams, other trainers and special operations forces.

“Several of the smaller countries that are coming out of Iraq indicated they are thinking of sending forces to Afghanistan,” Gates said.

The secretary said there was no “push-back” on either the expansion of the Afghan National Army or the creation of a NATO trust fund to help pay for it. “I think there is a broad understanding that ultimately the expansion of the Afghan security forces is everybody’s ticket out of there,” he said.

Gates said the NATO nations are looking to the longer term in Afghanistan. “They see this as something they are not going to walk away from in 2009 or 2010,” he said. “I think that there’s a greater understanding for the need for a comprehensive approach.”

Finally, Gates recommended the alliance look at a temporary increase in personnel for the Afghan election next year.

The alliance has also taken another step forward in NATO headquarters reform, Gates said. The ministers directed Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to present detailed proposals for the reform at the next ministerial meeting in Krakow, Poland.

The secretary general brought several broad proposals to the table, and now will convert those into specific details.

“Part of it is his ability to manage the NATO headquarters -- to manage people and money,” Gates said. “In other words, to behave like the chief executive officer.”

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