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NATO Chief Urges ISAF To Send More Trainers To Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left), British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth (center), and Afghanistan's Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak chat before the NATO meeting in Istanbul.
(RFE/RL) -- At a meeting of NATO defense heads in Istanbul, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has pushed for additional police and military trainers for Afghanistan. He also said ministers agreed on plans to trim the mission's multi-million-dollar deficit.

The police and military trainers are meant to help prepare Afghan forces to take over security for their own country.

While the United States and allies have pledged some 40,000 additional troops to battle the Taliban this year, such trainers remain in short supply.

Rasmussen said the NATO-led force needed to nearly double the amount of army training teams on the ground in Afghanistan. It currently has over 100 of them. He also called for 20 additional police training teams in addition to the current 60. That amounts to well over 1,000 more trainers.

"Today, I encouraged the 44 ISAF nations to dig deep and look at what they can do to staff the training mission," he said, "either from within current contributions or, if necessary, by sending more."

Rasmussen made the comments at the conclusion of a two-day informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Istanbul. It was the first ministerial meeting since the London conference on Afghanistan last month, in which the international community affirmed plans for a transition to Afghan control of the country beginning later this year.

'Real Achievement'

While he did not announce any immediate pledges of extra trainers, he said the bloc's overall contribution to the mission had already made a strong statement.

"The ISAF countries have now pledged just about the 40,000 forces that [ISAF commander] General [Stanley] McChrystal said he needed for this operation," Rasmussen said. "We have, in general, the combat forces we need. That is a real achievement, and it also testifies to NATO solidarity, commitment, and capability."

He added that a full transition to Afghan control of the country would be "based on conditions, not calendars."

Rasmussen also said that ministers agreed to measures to cut into the Afghan mission's massive budget deficit, estimated to be some $900 million.

He said while increased funding was still needed, the alliance would investigate ways to save, including phasing out outdated or underused technology and implementing other structural reforms.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States would provide mine-resistant vehicles, ground-penetrating radar, and other equipment to NATO allies to help protect their troops in Afghanistan from increasingly deadly roadside bombs. Gates said that IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, were now the main killer of soldiers in the country.

The pledge was coupled with a personal appeal for allies to send 4,000 additional trainers and mentors to Afghanistan.

On February 4, Gates said that the situation in Afghanistan was "serious" but that he didn't think it was deteriorating.

with agency reports