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NATO defense ministers veto troops for Afghanistan
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No NATO ally has come forward to pledge additional troops to southern Afghanistan at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, a NATO official said Thursday.

On the first day of their informal meeting, the NATO defense ministers focused their attention on NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Ministers attend the informal NATO ministers conference in Vilnius Feb. 7, 2008.

Asked whether any NATO ally has answered Washington's call for combat troops in Afghanistan's volatile south, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the meeting was not aimed at generating forces.

"It was not a force generation meeting and the ministers were not expected to (generate forces). We did not expect ministers to come to the table with force packages," Appathurai told reporters.

He said, however, there were discussions over burden sharing and risk sharing among the allies.

Currently all 26 NATO allies have troops in Afghanistan. But the majority of them are doing reconstruction and training tasks in the relatively calm regions, leaving only four allies – United States, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands -- in the south to bear the brunt of Taliban insurgency.

In mid January, the Pentagon announced the temporary deployment of 3,200 Marines in Afghanistan for six months -- 2,200 of them for combat activities in the south, after Washington's calls for more European troops had fallen on deaf ears.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week wrote to each and every defense minister of the other 25 NATO countries, asking them to commit troops to at least refill the gap to be left by the withdrawal of the U.S. Marines in autumn.

But it appears unlikely that the European allies will come up with the troops needed as their own forces are already stretched by missions elsewhere -- in Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon and Africa.

British soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol Helmand province in 2007.

On Wednesday, Germany announced that it will send 250 additional troops to Afghanistan. But the deployment will be in the north, to replace Norwegian troops.

Canada, with 2,500 troops fighting in the southern province of Kandahar, has threatened to pull out its forces after their mandate expires in early 2009 unless other allies will provide 1,000 soldiers plus resources.

Canadian Defense Minister Peter Gordon MacKay on Thursday explained to his colleagues the difficulties his government is facing as well as the conditions to be met for an extension of the Canadian troops, said Appathurai.

MacKay was also in bilateral discussions on this issue, he said.

Appathurai said there was a unanimous view among NATO defense ministers that Afghanistan will be a long-term commitment.

The ministers also voiced their opinion that the broader international community needs to do more in Afghanistan.

"We do need to move away from the conception that Afghanistan is NATO's problem and NATO's problem alone," said Appathurai.

The ministers are scheduled to hold discussions on Friday with non-NATO troop contributors in Afghanistan and key international players, such as the European Union and the World Bank.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)

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