BBC News & Deutsche Welle & CBC News – 2009-02-19 22:26:24
NATO ‘Can’t Allow Afghan Failure’
(February 19, 2009) — NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said that failure in Afghanistan is “not an option” but he ruled out a military solution alone. Speaking at a meeting of NATO and partner defence ministers in Krakow, Poland, he said: “We cannot afford the price of failure.”
But the military effort should go hand-in-hand with reconstruction and redevelopment work, he argued. “We should not be under any illusion there is a military solution,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has meanwhile said America will consider paying more rent to continue using a strategic air base in Kyrgyzstan which is key to its Afghan operations. News that the Kyrgyz parliament has voted to close the US base at Manas has overshadowed the talks in Krakow, which Mr Gates is attending.
Concerned about a resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan, the US said this week it would send an additional 17,000 troops to the country and would ask NATO to provide more troops ahead of a general election in August.
‘Not an Island’
“We cannot afford the price of failure in Afghanistan,” said Mr Scheffer. “Instability in an already highly unstable region, a safe haven for international terrorism and massive suffering for the Afghan people is simply too much to accept.”
Mr Scheffer said the countries contributing to Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) needed to work together much more closely.
“We, the Isaf nations, must provide more forces, more trainers and an action support in a more joined-up approach,” he told reporters. “We need a regional approach because Afghanistan is not an island. We need a greater civilian effort, married up more effectively with our military operations if we are not to waste precious time and resources. And we need a stronger communications effort to show the good we are doing and the heinous crimes the extremists are committing.”
Mr Gates said the Manas base was not irreplaceable. The Pentagon would consider “a somewhat larger payment but we’re not going to be ridiculous about it”, he added.
Earlier, he said the new US administration was prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan but expected other allies to do more too. The 17,000 increase will bring the number of US forces in Afghanistan to more than 50,000.
The US has already deployed about 24,900 troops to serve with Isaf plus about 17,000 under sole US command.
However, there is a growing realisation in the US and the UK that allies such as Germany, France and Italy are unlikely to offer significant numbers of extra combat forces, or change the nature of their missions, says the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt in Krakow. But those countries unwilling or unable to send more combat troops will also be pushed for extra help and funding on the civil side, focussing on governance, police training and the fight against drugs, our correspondent says.
On a visit to Canada, which is due to withdraw its 2,800 combat troops from Afghanistan by 2011, US President Barack Obama said he had not pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an extension of the Canadian combat mission.
Missile Shield Unresolved
On a separate issue, Mr Gates said the new Obama administration had not decided what to do about a proposed Europe-based missile shield to which Russia objects. Washington needed a little time to look at the plan laid out by former President George W Bush to place missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic as protection against a possible strike from Iran, he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow hoped the new US administration would take a “more realistic” approach to arms control talks. Such an approach would “correspond to the interests of strategic stability from the point of view of the international community’s security”, he said in Moscow.
© BBC MMIX
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Pentagon Chief Asks Allies
For Bigger Afghanistan Commitment
(February 20, 2009) — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked NATO allies to send more soldiers and civilian staff to Afghanistan. Gates was speaking at an informal meeting of defence ministers in the Polish city of Krakow to discuss strategies on Afghanistan. Earlier, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the military alliance could “not afford to fail.”
He added that not enough progress had been made in fighting the Taliban insurgency. Germany confirmed that it would send 600 extra troops to the country to boost security ahead of general elections, to be held in August, while Italy has suggested it could provide 500 more personnel. Washington announced it would send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.
NATO members called on to provide troops, support in Afghanistan
(February 19, 2009) — US Defence Secretary Robert Gates shares a word with his British counterpart, John Hutton, during a round-table session at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Krakow, Poland, on Thursday.US Defence Secretary Robert Gates shares a word with his British counterpart, John Hutton, during a round-table session at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Krakow, Poland, on Thursday. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates pressed members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Thursday to contribute more troops and support to the fight again the Taliban in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda at a high-level summit of NATO allies that started in Krakow, Poland, on Thursday.
Gates said he would like to see more troops, helicopters and transport planes to fill shortfalls in NATO’s force in Afghanistan. He added, however, that he recognizes that many NATO allies face public pressure in their home countries and are unlikely to offer the support. Gates suggested NATO countries could dispatch civilians to help the Afghan government instead. “It may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases,” Gates told reporters.
Germany has long resisted allowing its soldiers into heavy combat, so the idea of dispatching non-military personnel is appealing, said German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. “For training police and training the army, I think it’s necessary to do more and we will do more,” Jung said.
Canada’s is committed to ending its combat role in Afghanistan in 2011 but that may not be the end of Canada’ s role, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who is attending the two-day meeting. “We’re looking at ways in which we can continue to make a difference in Afghanistan,” MacKay said. “We have a provincial reconstruction team, we have a diplomatic contribution, we have training.” MacKay said there are a number of countries that could contribute more in Afghanistan.
New strategic concept. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday he wants the alliance to develop a “new strategic concept” to meet challenges its founders could never have imagined.
The new concept would replace one drafted in 1999 and would guide the alliance in confronting terrorism, cyber attacks and even the problems resulting from climate change, he said. It would also reflect NATO’s plans to admit two more ex-communist states — Albania and Croatia.
De Hoop Scheffer said the alliance remains guided by a Europe-centric concept that “does not take into account many of the key political and security events of the early 21st century.”
NATO did not foresee the problems posed by global terrorism, such as the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting mission in Afghanistan, he said.
Pakistan Vital to Afghan Mission Success
De Hoop Scheffer said Pakistan was key to the success of the Afghan mission. He urged a more regional approach to the conflict to counter militants fighting the alliance in Afghanistan that are also trying to destabilize Pakistan.
“We should increase military-to-military engagement in Pakistan and deepen the political dialogue,” de Hoop Scheffer told reporters. “I can say again that I believe the Pakistani government is serious about fighting extremism. What we need in NATO is to stop seeing Afghanistan in isolation and to start seeing it in a more regional approach.”
Gates signed a new military co-operation agreement with Poland Thursday, formalizing ties between the special forces operations of both countries. He praised Poland’s willingness to send troops into harm’s way, including about 1,600 in Afghanistan. “As an old cold warrior it is a true honour to be able to sign this document on behalf of the United States,” Gates told Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich.
Poland is one site for a planned US missile shield system that Russia has aggressively protested, but neither Gates nor Klich mentioned it during a brief signing ceremony.
Gates said he sees a chance for better relations with Russia with a new president in the White House, but warned that Moscow is trying to “have it both ways” by offering help in Afghanistan and undermining US efforts there at the same time.
Kyrgyzstan Votes to Close US air base
The NATO meeting comes on the heels of a vote in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to close a key US air base in the country. In a 78-1 vote, parliament cancelled the lease agreement on the Manas air base, a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tonnes of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan.
If President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signs the bill and Kyrgyz authorities issue an eviction notice, the US will have 180 days to vacate the base.
Gates played down Kyrgyzstan’s moves to kick the United States off the strategic air base and said he was willing to negotiate higher rent to stay. “We are prepared to look at the fees and see if there is justification for a somewhat larger payment,” Gates said at a press conference. “But we’re not going to be ridiculous about it.”
The United States pays $17.4 million a year for use of the transit hub, under terms of a 2006 lease. About 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo move through the airbase monthly. The move to push the US out could hamper President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the number of US forces in Afghanistan.
Obama recently announced he would send an extra 17,000 soldiers to help fight Taliban insurgents and shore up the increasingly shaky Afghan government. The reinforcements would be deployed this spring and summer. The US already has more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. The ministerial meeting will set the stage for NATO’s 60th anniversary summit in April in Strasbourg, France.
With files from the Associated Press
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