European NATO allies pressed to find Afghan trainers
ISTANBUL - From wire dispatches | 2/5/2010 12:00:00 AM |
NATO and the United States pressed European allies Friday to offer thousands of trainers to help improve the Afghan army and police as the military alliance’s chief said the situation is improving after a difficult year during talks between NATO defense ministers in Istanbul.
In a speech at a two-day NATO meeting about the Afghan war, Fogh Rasmussen echoed the assessment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, who said Thursday the security conditions in Afghanistan are no longer "deteriorating."
Both men were addressing bleak assessments from other nations that the Taliban are expanding in the region and the situation in Afghanistan has turned explosive. NATO unofficially estimates the number of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan has grown from fewer than 400 in 2004 to about 25,000 last year and nearly 30,000 now.
That has led other officials and analysts to say the Taliban are now waging a war of attrition against the international forces and Afghan government troops.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who also addressed the ministers at the NATO meeting, said the training and equipping of Afghan security forces would facilitate the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan "when the time comes."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, called for greater efforts to help the Afghans take responsibility for their own security more quickly. “More trainers are needed, and needed immediately. I pressed the alliance to meet the long-standing demand for thousands more instructors and mentors for the Afghan army and police,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Gates also said that the United States would sell to its NATO allies mine-resistant vehicles and other equipment to protect against roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Much of the technology is highly classified and not normally shared. Gates said the U.S. will provide "whatever we can within the limits of the law" to help protect the allies' troops.
[HH] Optimistic picture
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged nations "to dig deep and look at what they can do to staff the training mission, either from within their current contributions or, if necessary, by sending more."
A NATO official said it was likely that some nations, including perhaps the United States, would begin converting some of their combat forces into trainers. “After a difficult year in 2009, we now see a new momentum in 2010 and it has already started,” he told the alliance's 28 defense ministers meeting in Istanbul. “There is no doubt that 2010 will be a challenging year.”
Both Fogh Rasmussen and McChrystal have urged NATO ministers to send several thousand new army and police instructors to Afghanistan to enable government forces to assume more responsibility for the country's security.
France was the only country to publicly make any fresh contribution to the effort, announcing the dispatch of 80 military trainers. The personnel will include one mentoring and liason team and instructors to train Afghans in the use of armored vehicles, French Defense Minister Herve Morin told reporters.
Major world powers decided last week to boost Afghanistan's military to 171,600 by October 2011, up from the current 98,000 troops. They also decided to increase police numbers to 134,000 by that date, from about 90,000 today.
ISAF wants to expand the Afghan army to 134,000 troops in October 2010 and 171,600 by October 2011, while the police numbers would expand from some 80,000 now, to 109,000 in October, and 134,000 the following October.
A senior US official said up to 1,700 instructors were needed for the police and army, while up to 2,500 additional mentors were required to work alongside the national security forces. The demand for trainers comes as thousands of Afghan and NATO troops prepare a major offensive in south Afghanistan, the hub of the insurgency, in the biggest assault since President Barack Obama announced the surge in December.
Rasmussen underlined that not all trainers would be in the front line. “They would conduct their activities in a very safe environment so it is possible for countries to contribute trainers ... without running too high a risk.”
In a related development that may free up additional forces for Afghanistan, he said that the alliance is considering further reducing its peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
NATO diplomats in Brussels have said the plan is to reduce the contingent to less than 4,000 in 2011, with the ultimate goal of reducing the alliance's troop commitments in foreign missions not directly related to the Afghan war. Fogh Rasmussen said defense ministers are discussing "next steps" for the Kosovo force, which was reduced from 14,000 to 10,000 soldiers in 2009.
"We have seen considerable progress (in Kosovo) over the last 12 months," he said.
In 1999, NATO waged a brief war against Serbia which was fighting ethnic Albanian separatists in the region. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but Serbia and its allies consider the move illegal.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.