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U.S. Tells NATO Allies To Expect To Pay For Afghan Army

NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer in central London after the meeting

NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer in central London after the meeting

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned NATO allies that they will be expected to share the cost of a planned expansion of the Afghan National Army.

Gates was speaking after NATO defense ministers gathered for an informal meeting in London that was focused on Afghanistan and the alliance's response to Russia after its invasion last month of Georgia.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer offered few details on the alliance's position on Georgia except to state that NATO is in full solidarity with Tbilisi.

"The crisis we have seen in August is, of course, a very serious affair, but that has not to do with NATO helping or NATO not helping Georgia," de Hoop Scheffer said. "NATO is in full solidarity, as we showed by our visit, with the Georgian people and the Georgian government."

Separately, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered strong support for Georgia after meeting in the British capital with his Georgian counterpart, Vladimir Gurgenidze.

"We have been able to say to him that we are in full support of the territorial integrity of Georgia," Brown said. "We will be giving financial and economic support to Georgia and urging other countries to do so."

Gurgenidze welcomed the backing, calling it "very important for Georgia at this time, as Georgia faces the existential crossroads of either staying the course as a young liberal European democracy with a vibrant market economy, or degenerating into something weighed down by its Soviet past."

But Germany and some other NATO members in Europe reportedly intend to block further U.S. efforts this year to place Georgia on track for eventual NATO membership.

The talks produced no new agreements but were intended to pave the way for key decisions next spring, particularly on Afghanistan.

De Hoop Scheffer told reporters that NATO needs to adapt to new challenges both in out-of-area places like in Afghanistan as well as in NATO countries themselves.

"The transformation of our forces into making them more mobile, and modern, and more flexible has benefits for collective defense as well as our core function, the defense of alliance territory. And that should continue, the transformation of our forces," de Hoop Scheffer said. "There is no difference between the forces you need in Afghanistan and the forces you might need in a scenario, God forbid, where you have to defend NATO territory."

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich told the Warsaw daily newspaper "Dziennik" that NATO must review its relations with Russia and update the alliance's defense strategy in the light of the Georgia crisis.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking separately to reporters after the talks, played down any concerns in NATO countries over possible Russian aggression.

"It's hard for me to imagine that those who are currently in NATO feel a real military threat coming from Russia," Gates said. "To the degree there is a sense of concern, my guess is it has more to do with pressure and intimidation than it does with any prospect of real military action."

Gates also said that NATO allies would be expected to share the cost of a planned expansion of the Afghan national army. Gates said he let his colleagues know that "we would be in touch in terms of the importance of sharing the cost of the increased size of the Afghan army because, after all, the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces -- and in particular the army -- in the long term is NATO's exit strategy."

The Afghan army is set to grow from 80,000 soldiers to 134,000 as part of a strategy for building a security force that eventually can stand on its own.

Gates, who says the United States is currently reviewing its war strategy in Afghanistan, spoke with reporters after signing two agreements with his Czech counterpart. Both agreements dealt with the placement of a U.S. missile-defense radar system in that Central European country.

Russia has strongly criticized the missile-defense system.

In Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev said NATO alone cannot provide security and he called for a new security treaty for Europe.

"The need to conclude a big European [security] treaty is becoming more and more urgent after the events in the Caucasus," Medvedev said. "And it is understood now even by those who have said in personal, off-the-record conversations with me that there was no need for anything like, that NATO would provide everything, NATO would decide everything. What has NATO decided? What has it provided? It has only provoked a conflict."

In Kyiv, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Ukraine's domestic political crisis had "considerably weakened" the former Soviet republic's chances of joining NATO.

Ukraine's ruling pro-Western coalition collapsed this week after President Viktor Yushchenko pulled his party out of an alliance with Tymoshenko's bloc.

with agency reports