By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 20, 2009 - NATO nations are coming through with military and civilian commitments to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. Gates held a news conference at the end of the NATO defense ministers meeting here. The defense ministers met in advance of the 60th anniversary NATO Summit set to take place in Strasbourg, France, in April.
The secretary said he didn't make specific requests to particular countries for help in Afghanistan. Some nations offered it anyway.
"About 20 countries announced at some point or another in the course of the meetings that they would be increasing their contribution -- either military, civilian or [on the] training side," Gates said. "I consider that a good start as we head into the summer."
More than 40 countries are engaged in Afghanistan today. "I expect there will be significant new commitments at the NATO Summit," the secretary said.
The NATO-Russia group did not meet at the ministerial, and has not since the Russian invasion of Georgia in August. Gates said he agrees with Vice President Joe Biden's idea that the new administration needs to "re-set" the relationship with Russia, and it needs more time to make the best policy decisions.
The alliance is expected to reopen talks with Russia at some point, and NATO officials said this decision could come as early as the foreign minister meeting in April.
The administration also needs time to examine Afghan security policy, Gates said, stressing the need for both military and civilian commitments in Afghanistan.
"We are making a substantial increase to the military side," Gates said, referring to President Barack Obama's recent order to send 17,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines to the country. Other countries may not be able to strengthen their military commitment, but can make a contribution to stability through civilian action and resources, he said.
White House officials are conducting an Afghan strategy review that will look at the resources needed and what countries could supply them, Gates said. NATO allies, non-NATO partner countries, Afghan and Pakistani leaders will be invited to work on the review.
"I think the point needs to be made that our president has yet not asked anybody for anything," Gates noted. "We are trying to develop in this review what those needs are most likely to be and at that point -- before the NATO Summit -- we will be making those requests."
Looking back over the past six decades, Gates said, "It is clear that the alliance has faced many challenges and met them. I believe we face a very tough test in Afghanistan, but I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion as we have done many times before."