Gates to Ask NATO for More Trainers, Mentors
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
ISTANBUL, Feb. 4, 2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates left the Washington, D.C., Beltway yesterday, putting the politics of war spending behind him, only to land squarely in the middle of the same debate among the NATO partners here.
Turkish officials greet Defense Robert M. Gates upon his arrival at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Feb. 4, 2010. Gates is attending a two-day conference of NATO defense ministers. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Gates flew overnight to spend today and tomorrow working with U.S. allies to help in prioritizing the organization’s spending and at the same time hoping to garner a larger commitment of troops and resources for the war in Afghanistan.
Officials here said NATO is up against a “crunch time,” as many European countries face drastic defense cuts due to the global financial crisis. At the same time, the cost of the war in Afghanistan is expanding.
NATO must cut costs to spend money where it is most needed, a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on background.
“There are lots of things that we spend money on that we shouldn’t be spending money on,” the official said. In fact, Gates has long questioned some of the organization’s spending.
This is Gates’ 11th such meeting with the alliance’s defense ministers, and “for as long as he’s been coming, he has been concerned about NATO’s priorities in terms of spending,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
Morrell said much of NATO’s spending is outdated and needs to be readjusted to ensure proper resources go to the wars it is now fighting.
The senior official speaking on background said U.S. officials hope to have an agreement on spending reform in place by the end of this conference. The official declined to say what NATO should spend less on, but did say the alliance needs to invest more in strategic threats, such as a missile defense system, as well as more on resourcing the fight in Afghanistan.
While here, Gates will lobby for more trainers and mentors from NATO partners to bolster the effort in Afghanistan. NATO has committed to send about 9,000 extra troops, but about 4,000 more trainers and mentors are needed, the official said.
Another meeting is planned for the end of this month in which commitments will have to be made. The two-day conference here is the start of the efforts to persuade the partners, many of whom already had planned to reduce the number of their forces in Afghanistan, to deliver more troops, the official said.
“In the end,” the official explained, “this all about providing the capacity to build the Afghan forces so that we can transition responsibility over to the Afghans and we can reduce our own investment in terms of troops, … both the United States and our allies.”
This year is critical to building that capacity, the official said. Providing more troops now means requiring fewer in the years to come, he added, noting that the drawdown is slated to begin in some form starting in the summer of 2011.
“Everyone wants to see troop numbers going down,” the official said. “Everyone understands that the only way we’re going to have our troop [numbers] go down is for Afghan capability to go up.”
For the most part, NATO officials have embraced the proposed withdrawal start date set in place by President Barack Obama. It has given the allies and Afghanistan’s leaders a clear mark on the calendar to work toward, and the proposed date gives NATO partners an incentive to deliver on troop commitments, the official said.
“I think they have been more willing to cough up security forces, because they now see a strategy that makes sense,” the official said. “It is not an open-ended commitment. It is a commitment to improve the situation on the ground, to allow the Afghans to take over responsibility, to invest heavily now so they can do less down the road.
“I call 2010 the year of maximum effort,” said U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. “It is a year we are going to do everything we can, so down the road we have to do less. … The key here is the more we can accomplish in 2010, the more we can transition in 2011 and beyond, the more we can draw down."
Morrell said Gates’ message tomorrow to NATO defense leaders will be that now is the time to commit.
“He will implore them to act as quickly as they can to get their forces into the fight, because time is of the essence,” Morrell said.
As an incentive to provide troops for training and mentoring, Gates is expected to promise more help for the NATO partners in combating deadly improvised explosive devices. The U.S. military has grown its capacity to counter the IED threat during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has a wealth of knowledge and specialty equipment to offer up, the official speaking on background noted.
This planned commitment to provide resources and equipment to NATO partners also has helped to bolster other countries’ plans to provide more troops, the official added.
Though the United States does not want to compromise any of its classified information, Morrell said, Gates wants to “lean forward and push the system to share whatever we can.”
“I think he is very cognizant and very sensitive to the fact that our troops are not the only ones being targeted by this dramatic increase in IED attacks,” Morrell said. “And he has made it clear … that we need to be doing all we can possibly do to share our expertise … with our friends and allies who have boots on the ground in Afghanistan.”