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American Forces Press Service

Gates Arrives in Netherlands to Focus on NATO Issues, Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands, Oct. 24, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to discuss the way ahead for the alliance with his NATO counterparts and encourage members to live up to commitments they’ve made to help in Afghanistan.

Gates and the other NATO defense ministers will hold two days of informal meetings -- meaning no official decisions will be made -- at this North Sea resort town to talk about ways to ensure NATO-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo get the resources they need.

The group is expected to lay important groundwork for decision making at its next formal session, the April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania.

The ministers are slated to consider the NATO International Security Assistance Force’s role in Afghanistan as part of broader international efforts to support national security, governance and development there.

Gates told reporters in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he attended the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial conference on Oct. 22, that he’ll pressure NATO members here to live up to troop commitments they made at the 2006 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia.

“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 told participants, some of them NATO members.

“This will be clearly the principal theme" of the Noordwijk meeting, he said.

All NATO allies have personnel in Afghanistan serving in some capacity, John Colston, NATO’s assistant secretary general for defense policy and planning, noted during an Oct. 22 news conference here leading up to the informal ministerial conference.

He said the Noordwijk meeting “will not be a force-generation conference,” but that he expects participants to focus on capabilities.

A senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters the secretary is likely to urge the alliance to take a hard look at the ISAF mission to evaluate what’s working well, what needs improvement, and what needs to be built upon.

Colston predicted that the session will include talks about the best way to support Afghan national security forces while helping to establish stability and deal with narcotics issues in Afghanistan.

Talks also are expected to cover NATO’s role in Kosovo as part of the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission. Earlier this week in Kyiv, Gates urged the southeastern Europe ministers to keep their troops in Kosovo “regardless of what happens after Dec. 10,” the deadline for negotiations on the disputed Serbian territory.

“We are giving the Troika talks a chance, but we are realistic,” Gates told the group, referring to mediators from the United States, the European Union and Russia.

He urged NATO to complete its planning for missions directed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who has advocated an EU-supervised independence for Kosovo that gives broad autonomy for its Serb minority. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Ahtisaari in 2005 as his special envoy to lead the political process to determine Kosovo’s future status.

Gates said in Kyiv he opposes expanding KFOR’s mandate. “The EU has an important role to play in Kosovo, and we support its efforts to establish a rule-of-law mission there,” he said.

Plans to further expand the 26-member NATO alliance to include Croatia, Albania and Macedonia also will be discussed, although no decision is expected until April, when the ministers meet in Romania.

Gates met with the NATO aspirants in Kyiv to talk with them about progress toward satisfying NATO membership requirements.

The NATO agenda also includes talks about how the transformation of the alliance’s defense capabilities is going. Ministers will discuss ways to ensure NATO continues to have the forces and capabilities to support its operations, including those of the NATO Response Force.

During an informal NATO-Russia Council meeting, the 27 ministers will address civil and military activities, as well as cooperation in Afghanistan and in the framework Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s counterterrorism operation in the Mediterranean.

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