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American Forces Press Service

Burden-Sharing Urged as NATO Focuses on Afghanistan, Other Missions

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands, Oct. 24, 2007 – Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop joined NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer here today in opening a two-day ministerial conference, reminding members of the importance of sharing the NATO’s responsibilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.

Van Middelkoop, who is hosting the two-day meeting, acknowledged that some NATO members have been carrying the lion’s share of the load in NATO missions.

One of the biggest imbalances, one Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he intends to address here, involves NATO’s contributions to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

At issue is some countries’ failure to live up to the commitments they agreed to at the 2006 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. That’s left the mission short in terms of troops, trainers and helicopters, a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters.

Gates, who has brought up the shortfall repeatedly during his tenure as defense secretary, rendered his most direct criticism when he addressed the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, earlier this week. “I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen can’t find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan,” he said.

Van Middelkoop opened today’s session here by reminding participants: “One thing is certain: There is no such thing as a free ride to peace and security.

“It is not about what we are willing to say for a safer and more-just world. It ultimately depends on what we are willing to do,” he said. “Fairness and burden sharing will remain a leading principle for this alliance.”

De Hoop Scheffer said he will make the ISAF mission, being conducted under a U.N. Security Council mandate, a priority during the conference. “The most important thing we -- us, NATO, but also the international community -- can do is to strengthen Afghan capacity so that Afghanistan can stand on its own feet,” he said. “NATO is helping to bring that day closer.”

The secretary-general emphasized contributions the alliance is making: training and equipping the Afghan National Army, supporting local security and development through provincial reconstruction teams, and helping the Afghan government in its fight against illicit narcotics.

“And first and foremost, we are helping to provide a secure environment in which the Afghan people can build their country,” he said. “We are fighting together with the Afghan forces against the Taliban and other extremists because we believe in fundamental human rights. And they know what the Taliban and the terrorists they support will do if they regain power.”

Later today, NATO partners will discuss international support in Afghanistan with troop-contributing partners, Afghan Defense Ministers Abdul Rahim Wardak, and U.N., European Union and World Bank representatives, de Hoop Scheffer noted.

He praised the troops and civilians serving in NATO missions from Afghanistan to the Balkans and expressed condolences to families of those lost during these operations.

“Our men and women are courageously defending our security and our values in the most demanding circumstances,” he said. “We are proud of them and of what they achieve every single day, and we are determined to see their operations and missions through to completion.”

Setting the tone for the session, de Hoop Scheffer urged member nations to work together to deal with today’s challenges and others the alliance will face in the future.

Van Middelkoop said he looks forward to “some real brainstorming in discussing the challenges our alliance is facing.”

He told participants he considers this coastal North Sea venue a good omen for the sessions. “The sea breeze may blow away some of our old ideas and bring in some new fresh ones, and I think we need them,” he said.

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