NATO wants 3,400 more trainers for Afghanistan Army
QUEBEC CITY – NATO wants about 3,400 more trainers for the Afghanistan army and police, and the United States may fill some of those jobs despite difficulties finding available troops, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.The United States probably would be responsible for fewer than 1,000 of the training spots, while U.S. officials hope European nations will provide the rest.”We would like to try and fill some of them, but quite frankly we’re having trouble identifying” troops, Gates said, speaking to reporters on the plane returning to Washington from meeting with allies on the Afghanistan war effort. “We can fill some of them, but we don’t have the ability right now to fill all of them.”Gates said the American troops would come from new forces that would be deployed to Afghanistan. He said part of the problem is that many of the trainers are National Guard forces, “and we have a hard time identifying who would go.”He said about 60 percent would be for the Afghan police and 40 percent would be for the army.Gates was returning from a meeting in Quebec with defense ministers from allies also serving in the southern sector of Afghanistan. Gates said the request came from commanders about six weeks ago and defense officials at the Quebec meeting agreed that it should be filled.The NATO-led coalition there still needs aircraft, medical equipment and military trainers to bolster its planned spring assault against the Taliban, according to the U.S. military.Gates said the group – which included defense ministers from Canada, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania – talked mostly about how to better coordinate their military and civilian activities, including the reconstruction efforts.He also said it appears that the NATO allies are prepared to make a long-term commitment to the struggling nation.”I think all of us anticipate that this is a yearslong process,” he said, adding that the coalition members also understand that they have to establish a secure environment in Afghanistan in order for the other improvements to take hold.NATO has repeatedly asked that member nations fill the shortfalls in troops and equipment, as well as loosen restrictions on some forces who are limited in what they can do or where they can go. But a number of European countries, including France and Germany, have been reluctant to respond and have openly questioned whether it is wise to commit more troops to the fight there.The U.S. now has about 25,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some 14,000 serving in the NATO-led force, which totals roughly 32,000 troops.