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NATO falls short in push for new trainers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO fell short on new commitments of troops to train the Afghan army and police force this week, leaving the alliance still having to find around 1,600 more by the end of the year.

An Afghan National Army officer observes training at the Kabul Military Training Centre September 29, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

A NATO spokesman said a force generation conference on Tuesday involving the 28 NATO countries and partners in the 44-nation NATO-led mission in Afghanistan had brought offers of 600 more trainers, on top of 1,000 already committed this year.

The contributions took NATO “about halfway to the total increase in trainers we will need by the end of 2010,” spokesman James Appathurai said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Force generation is a continuous process, and SHAPE will continue to work with nations to meet our growing training requirements,” he said, referring to NATO’s military headquarters at Mons in southern Belgium.

The additional trainers bring new commitments of NATO troops to Afghanistan since December to 39,500, just short of the 40,000 sought by NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, to contain a widening Taliban insurgency.

The United States is sending 30,000 of the new troops, but has long struggled to convince European and other states to make new commitments amid growing opposition to the war.

Thousands more trainers will be needed next year to help boost Afghan security to a target of 300,000 personnel, something NATO hopes will allow them to take over responsibility for security and allow foreign forces eventually to withdraw.

In Washington, the Pentagon said it was too soon to say there would be a shortfall in trainers.

“We’ll see how it all falls out,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “There is no lack of understanding of what the needs are for Afghanistan. NATO as well as the United States ... will continue to work to try to fulfill those requirements.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month the target for trainers needed could be met by reshuffling rather than expanding their existing troop commitments.

On Tuesday, Gates criticized Europe for demilitarizing too much since the end of the Cold War, saying its underfunded defense budgets were undermining shared security goals.

He said too few helicopters and cargo aircraft for NATO’s Afghan mission were “directly impacting operations” and that the unwillingness of European countries to fund defense was part of an aversion to the use of military force and accompanying risks.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Adam Entous; Editing by Charles Dick