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Pentagon chief in Ukraine, seeks help in Afghanistan

Written by: Staff

KIEV, Oct 21 (Reuters) US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will ask Ukraine and other eastern European countries this week to send troops to Afghanistan to cover a shortfall in trainers for the Afghan army, a senior US defence official said.

Gates, who landed in Kiev today to meet Ukraine's government and attend the Southeast Europe Defence Ministerial, has grown increasingly frustrated by the failure of NATO allies to fulfil promises made to Afghanistan, his aides say.

He is particularly worried about a shortfall of more than 3,000 trainers for Afghan security forces -- a need that military commanders voiced a year ago.

A senior defence official travelling with the Pentagon chief said one of Gates's main goals was to press members of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial to send troops to Afghanistan to fill the gap.

The 11-member group sent a 100-troop brigade, called Southeast Europe Brigade or SEEBRIG, to the war zone in 2006.

''It's to have a discussion about SEEBRIG and how SEEBRIG can potentially help in Afghanistan again possibly by undertaking a training mission,'' the official said when asked about Gates's priorities in Kiev.

''Given the need for trainers in Afghanistan, could SEEBRIG undertake or consider doing such a mission there?'' the official said.

The six-year-old war in Afghanistan, overshadowed in the United States by Iraq, tops Gates's agenda this week. After meetings in Kiev, the secretary stops in Prague on his way to a meeting of NATO defence ministers in the Netherlands.

There, he will argue yet again that progress in Afghanistan could be lost if NATO members do not dedicate more combat troops, trainers and equipment to the fight. Already, violence has soared in 2007 and military officers say the Taliban is trying to import the deadly roadside bomb technology that has been used in Iraq.

While in Kiev, Gates will meet with Ukraine's president, prime minister and defence minister and ask about their security priorities and defence reforms. Ukraine is considered a strong US partner in Iraq and the Pentagon thinks Kiev might send troops to Afghanistan as well.

Ukraine receives US military assistance with equipment and training. In 2007, it received 10 million dollars in US military equipment and 1.7 million dollars in training funds.

Gates also will discuss the pace of defence reforms among members of the Southeast Europe Defence Ministerial and what more is needed for NATO integration, US officials said.

Reuters SKB GC1742

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