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NATO: Official Denies Contribution Has Been 'Marginal'

Brussels, 10 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Both NATO and the United States are surprised at recent press reports suggesting that NATO has been marginalized -- in other words, has not taken a lead role -- in U.S. action against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

A NATO official, who asked not to be named, said the United States had asked a lot from its NATO allies and was pleased with what he called the strong and extremely useful political and practical support NATO had granted.

The official said that although NATO has invoked Article Five of its founding treaty, which obliges allies to respond to an attack on one member as an attack on all, the article does not require the United States to involve the alliance as a whole in its response.

According to the official, the United States has chosen to conduct its retaliatory operations against the perpetrators of the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on an individual and bilateral basis.

Only British forces have been actively involved in the strikes against Afghanistan, although Canada, Germany, and France have also received requests from Washington for concrete assistance.

At a meeting this morning of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest policy-making body, U.S. officials briefed their NATO allies on the outline and expected results of the ongoing strikes against Afghanistan.

Rejecting criticism that the United States has not kept its NATO allies fully in the picture, the official noted that in contrast to earlier NATO operations in the Balkans, it would not be appropriate for the alliance to be aware of precise operational details of what he said remains essentially an American operation.

The official added that the United States had already requested much from the allies. NATO's standing naval force is redeploying from the western to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and five of NATO's Europe-based high-tech AWACS surveillance planes will start patrolling U.S. skies on 12 October. According to the official, the latter was also a symbolic action, since common NATO assets will be used for the first time in the United States to protect U.S. citizens.

The NATO official said the U.S. wish list included requests for intelligence-sharing, increased security of U.S. and allied installations, overflight rights, use of ports, access to national facilities, and other assistance.

Referring to a recent letter sent by the U.S. administration to the UN Security Council, which stated that the United States may have to attack targets outside Afghanistan, the NATO official said the United States would be able to invoke Article Five only to cover attacks against targets whose involvement in the 11 September attacks is proven by clear and compelling evidence.

So far, evidence presented by the United States only implicates Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network, which has its headquarters in Afghanistan, the official said.

The NATO official said NATO's North Atlantic Council would certainly expect to be informed of attacks on targets outside Afghanistan, but added that this did not amount to a precondition for U.S. action. He said the United States would simply go ahead with the strikes if it felt there was a need for wider attacks.