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NATO Head Says Not Running From Afghanistan Fight

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at NATO headquarters in Brussels (file photo)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The new head of NATO, in his first major U.S. speech as secretary-general, will address what he says are doubts in America over the alliance and fears that allies are "running from the fight" in Afghanistan.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in prepared remarks seen by Reuters, will acknowledge the need for more resources to battle the Taliban in the face of mounting Western casualties and fading public support for the war.

But Rasmussen will also argue that downplaying the efforts so far by NATO allies is counterproductive, unjustified and will leave them "less inclined to make those efforts and those sacrifices" in the future.

"I'm a little concerned about the doubts I hear these days in the United States about NATO," Rasmussen, who took over the job last month, says in the speech to be delivered at the Atlantic Council in Washington later on September 28.

"Talking down the European and Canadian contributions -- as some here in the U.S. do, on occasion -- can become a self-fulfilling prophesy."

In the speech, he points to 9,000 additional non-U.S. troops who have joined the Afghan effort in the past 18 months, saying "the allies are not running from the fight, despite the conventional wisdom."

Opinion polls on both sides of the Atlantic show souring public sentiment over the eight-year-old conflict, which the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has warned will likely result in failure without more troops.

European allies are not expected to offer any significant increase in trainers or troops unless the United States takes the lead. But President Barack Obama said he will not decide on further reinforcements until after a broad review of strategy.

The Netherlands and Canada have already set 2010 and 2011 withdrawal timelines and Italy has announced its intention for a "strong reduction" in its forces.

Rasmussen says more resources will be required and stresses the need to rapidly train Afghan forces so that they can take the lead in providing for their own security. He adds that "we have to do more now, if we want to be able to do less later."

"None of this will be quick, and none of it will be easy. We will need to have patience. We will need more resources. And we will lose more young soldiers to the terrorist attacks of the Taliban," Rasmussen says.

McChrystal's leaked assessment included withering criticism of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), saying that troops often lacked basic understanding of Afghan society.

Rasmussen says he is aware of frustrations in Washington, including restrictions some NATO states put on their forces and delays in NATO decision-making.

"Let me be very clear. I understand those frustrations. I am already working hard to address those very real problems," he says in his remarks.