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NATO Urges Allies To Do More In Afghanistan

U.S. Marines await helicopter transport in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
LONDON (Reuters) -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said that he regrets failing to get more member states to give up national "caveats" that mean they won't carry out dangerous missions in places such as Afghanistan.

Speaking to foreign policy experts on July 20 before he leaves his post next week after 5 1/2 years, de Hoop Scheffer said he would have liked to have done more to get all NATO member states contributing in equal measure to the alliance's operations.

"I have tried to be as proactive as I could to lift caveats, as we call them in our jargon -- the limitation on the use of force," he told an audience at Chatham House. "I have had some success, but I would have liked to be more successful."

U.S. officials have often expressed frustration that many nations deployed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan will not take part in combat missions because of opt-outs they have secured.

German troops, for example, are mostly involved in the training of Afghan security forces, avoiding active combat missions such as the operation currently being led by U.S. and British forces against the Taliban in the south.

Scheffer said that while he was pleased the alliance fighting in Afghanistan was broad -- involving more than 40 nations -- there seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what belonging to an alliance meant.

"During the Cold War, it was about sharing a certain degree of risk," he said. "Today, however, it implies the willingness to accept sacrifice and share burdens.

"The true test of our alliance, therefore, lies in its ability to convince allies to show the necessary solidarity and to increase their willingness to share burdens equitably."

In NATO parlance, the phrase "share burdens" or "burden sharing" is often used to suggest that some countries need to do more or pull their weight better -- either by committing more troops or by taking on greater financial responsibilities.

Before his speech, Scheffer met British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, where burden-sharing issues were discussed and Brown emphasized the need for other nations to do more.

Britain, with 9,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan -- the second-largest contingent after the United States -- feels that it is bearing a heavier toll in the conflict that some of its NATO allies in Europe, although it has never named names.

"The prime minister emphasized the importance of building up the Afghan Army and further burden-sharing amongst NATO allies," Brown's spokesman said in a statement after the meeting.

"Whilst it was helpful that certain allies had increased their troop contributions for the period of the elections," he said, referring to Afghan presidential elections on August 20, "better military and civilian burden sharing was needed in the medium term to deliver improved security."