By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 13, 2008 - NATO has made significant progress in Afghanistan, and the alliance now needs to deliver on the goals the alliance's heads of state set when they met in April, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates spoke during a news conference at NATO headquarters following two days of meetings with NATO defense ministers.
Alliance heads of state agreed at their Bucharest, Romania summit in April that more capabilities are needed at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. They also promised to field all the troops the NATO operations plan calls for.
"Many of the same shortfalls that existed 18 months ago still exist today," Gates said he told defense ministers during a working dinner yesterday.
The secretary said he put aside his prepared remarks at the dinner and spoke to his fellow defense ministers from the heart.
"I told them that my expectations are simple: I expect government decisions and actions to match government rhetoric," he said. "Last month, for the first time, more coalition forces were killed in Afghanistan than were killed in Iraq. And just since we've gathered here in Brussels, three more coalition soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan."
The NATO operations plan calls for three more battalions in Afghanistan than ISAF has in place. France, the United Kingdom and Poland have said they will send additional units to the country in the fall, and other NATO countries have pledged smaller numbers of troops to serve as military and police trainers. The United States has pledged to send more troops to the country.
Gates ordered more than 3,000 U.S. Marines to Afghanistan in March on a one-time deployment. Some 1,600 Marines are supplementing forces taking on the Taliban and al-Qaida in NATO's Regional Command South. The rest are serving as trainers and are part of Operation Enduring Freedom. All will leave the country in the fall, and they will not be replaced.
"It's important that we live up to our pledges in both civilian and military spheres necessary for success in Afghanistan," the secretary said.
Gates said the defense ministers also discussed NATO transformation, missile defense and Kosovo.
The alliance achieved consensus on standing up a Kosovo security force and standing down the Kosovo protection corps, he said. The force will be a multi-enthic, lightly armed force that protects all Kosovars and supports the country's nascent democracy. "This is much needed as Kosovo readies to enact its constitution on June 15," Gates said.
There is still work to be done in Kosovo, the secretary said. "The United Nations and the European Union must broker a smooth transition in the policing mission that ensures the NATO Kosovo Force retains its original mandate and is not called upon to serve as a first responder," he explained.
In their meetings here, the defense ministers pledged to present options for "real, comprehensive integrated missile defense options" so NATO leaders can make a choice at the alliance's 2009 summit, Gates said.
Missile defense has to defend all NATO territory, they agreed, and the U.S. missile defense system that will be based in the Czech Republic and Poland, would defend most of Europe against an Iranian missile. But areas of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania would not be covered, so planners are looking at short- and medium-range defense options to integrate into the American system, he said.