Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NATO: 600 new trainers for Afghan forces

The Washington Post

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Balearic Islands -- NATO allies have pledged 600 more instructors to train the expanding Afghan security forces - a key element in the allied strategy for defeating Taliban insurgents.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Wednesday that the new trainers, along with 1,000 pledged in December, make up about half of the number needed for the training effort.

"That already takes us about halfway to the total increase in trainers we will need by the end of 2010 - and brings the overall number of new contributions, since December, to about 39,500," Appathurai said.

The strategy formulated by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, calls for gradually handing over responsibility for the war to Afghan government troops.

With European capitals tightening defense budgets and growing public opposition to what many see as an unwinnable war, NATO hopes the Afghan National Army will grow from about 97,000 troops now to 171,600 by the end of next year, and the Afghan National Police from about 94,000 officers to 134,000. Within five years, the Afghan security force should reach 240,000 soldiers and the police 160,000.

But in a dramatic political fallout, the Dutch government collapsed Saturday after Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende tried to meet a NATO request to keep the Netherlands' 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan from coming home this year. A majority of the Dutch parliament backed a withdrawal as planned this summer.

The Dutch crisis has prompted fears that other NATO nations could rethink their commitments to the eight-year war. Canada, which serves in the same southern region as the Dutch, also plans to remove its 2,800 troops from Afghanistan by next year.

Appathurai is accompanying NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will attend a meeting of European Union defense ministers on this Spanish island.

The two-day meeting in Mallorca opened a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized America's European allies, saying their reluctance to resort to military force was limiting NATO's ability to fight effectively.

"Mr. Gates knows perfectly well the efforts that the European Union and the member states of NATO are carrying out in Afghanistan," Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon said.

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