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American Forces Press Service

Gates Speaks from Heart in Effort to Spur NATO Nations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 13, 2008 – It was going to be a typical NATO defense ministers working dinner until Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates threw away his script.

Gates spoke from his heart last night during a dinner at which ministers discussed the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

According to a U.S. official who was there and later spoke with reporters on background, Gates “was on fire.” The secretary had a 10-page speech prepared, but that went out the window as he began to speak.

Gates started by saying he is particularly impassioned about Afghanistan “because in May, U.S. casualties in Afghanistan exceeded our casualties in Iraq for the first time.”

Gates has been pushing for months for NATO nations to follow through on promises made earlier to increase their participation in Afghanistan. But the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force is still short three battalions of troops. The NATO effort, which is providing security for Afghanistan, also needs trainers and enablers, such as helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I know I’ve been a big nag, and I know I’ve been a pain, … but for NATO to continue to be tied up in politics and issues between governments that are irrelevant to whether we are making progress in Afghanistan, I just don’t have patience any more,” Gates told his NATO counterparts. “I really have limited patience for these kinds of surrogate debates.”

Gates said U.S. expectations are simple: “that government decisions and actions match their rhetoric.” Nations must fulfill the commitments that political leaders have made at the summit level. Their failure to do so has caused gaps in security in Afghanistan, Gates said. “We’ve got kids dying because of the gaps,” he said.

The official said Gates listed the issues that NATO must immediately deal with, and troop shortages are first and foremost on that list. The Afghanistan effort also needs military trainers and police trainers.

NATO countries also must do all they can to ensure the success of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, the new representative of the United Nations secretary general for civilian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Eide has been in office for two months, and his mission is crucial to cementing gains in governance, the rule of law and the economy in place. Eide will help Afghan leaders tie together NATO, European Union and U.N. reconstruction efforts, the U.S. official explained.

The official said Gates went on to tie the need to deal with Afghanistan’s illegal poppy trade to the alliance’s efforts in Afghanistan. Counternarcotics “is not a tangential job,” Gates said. Narcotics feed corruption in local, provincial and national governments in Afghanistan. The Taliban exists off the drug profits. Gates is pushing for ISAF to do more against labs and traffickers, the official said.

Pakistan also must be a concern to European NATO leaders, the official said NATO told the alliance’s defense ministers. “It’s important for the Pakistanis to hear as loudly from Europeans that the security challenges there are a threat to Europe in addition to being a threat to Afghanistan,” he said.

One defense minister spoke about his nation suffering its first death in operations in Afghanistan. Gates told the ministers that U.S. medics have made enormous advances in recent years in prosthetics and in dealing with traumatic brain injuries. “If you are interested in working together on these issues, write me and let’s see what we can do,” Gates said. “We’re all in it together. We’re a family, and we should work together on these kinds of issues as well.”

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