US frustration high on NATO's unmet Afghan pledges

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WASHINGTON, Sep 30 (Reuters) NATO's failure to deliver on pledges made to Afghanistan has frustrated the United States and raised questions in Washington about Europe's commitment to that war, according to US officials.

Military commanders in Afghanistan face significant and long-standing shortfalls in troops, equipment and trainers for Afghan forces.

While the United States has stepped in to cover some of those needs, US officials say they might not renew added commitments unless European partners fulfill their promises.

''We have been very direct with a number of the NATO allies about the need to meet the commitments they made'' at a NATO meeting in Riga, Latvia, last year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

''I've made pretty clear I'll be loath to make further extensions where somebody else is not fulfilling the requirement,'' he told reporters last week.

The Pentagon chief has also signaled to the US Congress he may take concrete steps to demonstrate his frustration.

''The secretary is wrestling with the idea of making a provocative move that would make it clear to our allies that he has just about run out of patience,'' a senior defense official said.

The official would not elaborate.

Next week marks the first anniversary of NATO taking control of operations throughout Afghanistan. It also marks a year of unfilled requirements that military officers say hurt their ability to combat a resurgent Taliban.

The requirements, many of which are classified, include more helicopters, hundreds of troops and 3,200 trainers for Afghan forces, according to US officials.

NATO has about 35,000 troops in Afghanistan. Of the 26,000 US troops there, 15,000 are dedicated to the NATO mission while the rest conduct counterterrorism operations. Britain has the second-largest presence, with about 7,000 troops.

The United States last year agreed to add combat troops to Afghanistan and keep an aviation unit in Kandahar until January 2008. But those decisions have placed additional strain on a US force already stretched by the war in Iraq.

NATO defense ministers will meet in October and Gates has asked for a plan to replace the US aviation unit.

The most viable option appears to be leasing helicopters from a private contractor, said Mary Beth Long, the Pentagon's acting assistant secretary for international security affairs.

GERMAN RESTRICTION The United States complains specifically about Germany's unwillingness to allow its military trainers to accompany Afghan soldiers into violent areas of southern Afghanistan.

''NATO countries at the highest level made commitments at Riga about what they would do and when they would do it in Afghanistan and those commitments have not been fulfilled,'' Long said.

''The biggest example of that is exactly the example you're talking about,'' she said when asked about Germany.

Gates blamed apathetic voters in Europe for the lack of commitment on the part of NATO allies more broadly.

''My overall impression is most European governments get it. They understand how important Afghanistan is and they are actually eager to fill the commitments they've made,'' he said.

''The problem is many of them are coalition governments. Some of them are minority governments in a coalition. And there is a lack of appreciation on the part of their voters of why Afghanistan is important.'' The Pentagon chief has ordered a report from his staff before the October meeting on pledges allies have not met.

Reuters RS DB2031

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