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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 02:28 GMT
Nato 'at risk over Afghanistan'
Robert Gates speaks to a Senate Committee (6 February 2008)
Mr Gates only reluctantly agreed recently to send extra troops
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned the future of Nato is at risk due to differences over Afghanistan and that it may become a two-tier alliance.

Mr Gates said that without more sharing of the burden of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, the willingness of those engaged in combat would disappear.

Most of the fighting in the volatile south of the country is being done by the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands.

His comments came as Germany announced it would send 200 troops to the north.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said the rapid reaction force would be sent to Mazar-e-Sharif in the next few months, but could be deployed to other areas in an emergency.

I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure, or perhaps even get worse
Robert Gates,
US Defence Secretary

Last week, the US government sent letters to European states pressing them to send troops to southern Afghanistan.

"I think it would be a very big mistake if we would transfer our responsibility from the north to the south," Mr Jung said in response on Wednesday.

But speaking to a US Senate committee, Mr Gates said he would continue to be a "nag" on the issue at the informal meeting of Nato defence ministers in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on Thursday.

"I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect peoples' security, and others who are not," he said.

"And I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure, or perhaps even get worse."

Rift

Mr Gates reluctantly agreed recently to send an extra 3,200 US marines to the country, having previously suggested the extra troops should be provided by other countries.

All 26 Nato members have contributed troops to the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), but many US allies, including Germany, France, Spain, Turkey and Italy, have refused to send significant numbers of combat forces to the south.

The decision has created a rift between them and the US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania, whose troops have borne the brunt of the counter-insurgency fight in recent years.

US and UK soldiers in Afghanistan. File pic
US and UK soldiers have been fighting in the volatile south

Canada has been the latest to warn it could pull its contingent of 2,500 troops out of the country unless allies provide reinforcements in Kandahar province.

Mr Gates's comments were echoed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she met UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband in London on Wednesday.

"The alliance is facing a real test here. And it is a test of alliance strength," she said.

Ms Rice added that people needed to understand it was not a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, but a fight against the resurgent Taleban.

Mr Brown earlier told MPs: "What we are looking for... is a determination on the part of all our allies to ensure the burden sharing in Afghanistan is fair."

He said he wanted their commitment in time for the Nato summit in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, in April.

'Making progress'

The bilateral talks came a day after a London-based think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), warned that Afghanistan faced becoming a "failed state" if operations by Nato were unsuccessful.

British marines in Afghanistan (archive)
We are fighting on one of the front lines of terrorism
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer,
Nato Secretary General

The IISS report echoed the tone of a number of other studies in the last week, including one from the influential US-based Afghanistan Study Group.

But despite the gloomy predictions, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has insisted that the alliance is making progress.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer said six million children had been enrolled in school, 3,000km of roads had been built and 80% of Afghans now had access to basic healthcare.

He accepted that some big challenges remained, including the adequate training and equipping of the Afghan National Army, but said Nato's mission in the country was one of necessity, not choice.

"We are fighting on one of the front lines of terrorism," he said.

"And the ones who want to spoil Afghanistan's development should not have it their way, because the consequences would not be felt in Afghanistan, but far beyond."

Mr de Hoop Scheffer said his measure of success would be an Afghanistan that did not need the help of the international community, but stressed the wider reconstruction of the country would take generations.

ISAF REGIONAL COMMANDS AND RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS
Afghan troops map
Countries contributing more than 1,000 troops (6 February 2008):
Australia - 1,070
Canada 2,500
France 1,515
Germany - 3,210
Italy - 2,880
Netherlands - 1,650
Poland - 1,100
UK - 7,800
US - 15,000
Figures approximate
Source: ISAF



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