BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - NATO ministers agreed on Friday on the need to boost training of Afghan forces to allow them eventually to take over from international troops and to insist on higher standards from the next Afghan government.
NATO defense ministers backed the idea of a broader counter-insurgency strategy expounded by top U.S. and alliance commander General Stanley McChrystal, but side-stepped the issue of whether there should be a big increase in foreign troop numbers pending a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama.
“There is a support of this counter-insurgency strategy which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems of Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilizes the whole Afghan society ...that we should reinforce the interaction between our military effort and civilian reconstruction and development.”
Rasmussen said there had been “a general shared view” among the ministers meeting in Bratislava on the need to invest in eventual transition to Afghan responsibility for security.
“Investing in Afghan capacity now means being able to do less later,” he told a news conference. “Our mission will end when the Afghans are able to take responsibility for their own country.”
“I have made it very clear to ministers that this cannot be done for free,” he said. “We will need more training teams, we will need more money to sustain the Afghan forces.”
Rasmussen also said NATO ministers wanted to see the future government in Afghanistan take visible steps to show it was cleaning up corruption and delivering services to the people.
“The government that emerges from this process must be credible in the eyes of the people...Considering what we are investing in Afghanistan we also have the right to insist on it.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said many allies had spoken positively about McChrystal’s assessment, but sidestepped the question when asked about his own view and whether he backed the general’s call for more troops.
“I was in listening mode,” he said. “Clearly one of the things that I think the president is expecting from me is to bring back the views of our allies on some of these issues.”
He said he received indications from a number of allies that they were considering boosting their military or civilian contributions for Afghanistan, although the question of troop increases was not really discussed.
NATO’s Afghan mission currently involves 65,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 from allied nations.
Obama is still considering a call by McChrystal for tens of thousands more soldiers. He said on Wednesday he could reach a decision on his new Afghan war strategy before the outcome of an Afghan election run-off on November 7.
Gates signaled a decision could take weeks.
“I think that the analytical phase is coming to an end and that probably over the next two or three weeks we’re going to be considering specific options and teeing them up for a decision by the president,” he said.
Ministers expected any new troop pledges could come at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December, once Obama had made his decision. “I think most countries are waiting for the Americans,” said Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai removed a stumbling block to Obama’s decision when he agreed on Tuesday to a second round of voting after many of his votes in the August presidential election were thrown out as fraudulent.