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U.S. Says Expects Allies' Commitment For Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks at a press conference in Krakow on February 20
KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) -- The Obama administration expects "significant new commitments" from allies on troops or civilian assistance for Afghanistan before an April summit, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on February 20.

After a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow, Gates said Washington planned to make specific calls on allies for more contributions in the battle against militancy in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama announced this week a big increase in U.S. troop numbers for Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength, but the United States has faced reluctance from its NATO allies to provide more soldiers to complement the 17,000 extra troops Washington is sending.

Gates said if countries were unable to boost military commitments, contributions to efforts to boost development and governance would be welcome.

"I expect there will be significant new commitments on either the civilian or the military side in connection with the NATO summit," he told a news conference.

The NATO summit is scheduled for April 3 to 4.

The Pentagon said 20 countries, including 15 NATO members, announced new commitments at the Krakow meeting.

"I consider that a good start as we begin to look towards the summit," Gates said.

"I believe we are facing a very tough test in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion," Gates said.

The extra U.S. troops would take the U.S. contingent to about 55,000. About 30,000 from 40 other countries, most of them in NATO, already operate in Afghanistan.

Gates said he made no specific requests of allies for new contributions, and that a review Washington was conducting on Afghan strategy would assess needs and contributions.

"We will be developing what we believe other nations might be able to contribute," Gates said. "I believe before the NATO summit we will be making those requests, but as yet they are not resolved."

Limited Response

On February 19, Gates got only a limited response to a call for allies to do their fair share by sending more forces to provide security for Afghanistan's August 20 presidential election.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said there was a strong commitment among allies to ensure sufficient forces for the election, but European allies have responded to pleas for more troops with pledges in the hundreds, not thousands.

The Pentagon said 10 countries had offered more troops to help secure the election.

Of the larger states, Italy said it would send 500 more troops by April and Germany confirmed a pledge of 600 more. Britain, with the second largest force in Afghanistan, said it was up to other NATO states to step up their commitments. France reiterated it had no plans to send more forces.

Among other commitments, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said five nations pledged additional helicopters to support NATO-led troops and three offered fighter jets and cargo planes to help with operations around the election.

Governments also offered to provide 15 more training teams for the Afghan army and up to half a dozen more provincial reconstruction teams that provide development aid, Morrell told reporters on Gates' plane back to Washington.

Gates called for a short-term deployment of troops from the alliance's rapid response force, the NRF, which has never been deployed, but Germany, which has long resisted calls to remove restrictions on the way its own forces can be used, argued that the NRF should not be used for such roles.