Nato chief slates public calls for more troops
BRUSSELS, Feb 2 Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called for an end to the “very public calls” for more troops for Afghanistan and a return to the normal “quiet channels”.
Such calls can give a false impression of a lack of solidarity among Nato allies, Nato spokesman James Appathurai warned on Saturday.
The comments came the day after the United States intensified its diplomatic drive to find more troops, amid fears its allies could abandon Afghanistan. Officials said Defence Secretary Robert Gates had written letters to all Nato allies asking for more support.
“Force generation is a process which Nato has been doing for 60-plus years and we`ve always done it through the normal channels which are quiet channels,” Mr Appathurai said.
“Afghanistan has been a slightly different experience in that you see very public calls between allies and it can raise political tension.”
Scheffer`s “experience has been, in his four years in the job, that this is better done through the normal channels and with Nato at the centre of it, and quietly,” he added.
The US call on Friday came as Canada warned it could withdraw its 2,500 troops from Afghanistan if Nato fails to send reinforcements to the battle-ravaged south, a risk that appeared higher with Germany`s refusal to deploy its forces there.
Despite his misgivings, the Nato secretary general joined the public debate in the German press, calling on alliance nations to show flexibility in their rules of deployment.
In an interview in the German weekly Bild am Sonntag, he urged Germany to heed the call to send troops to the turbulent south.
“Germany is doing an exemplary job in the north… but in my view it would be natural to also to help elsewhere in Afghanistan,” Scheffer said.
“I call on all nations to show flexibility in their engagement in our combat forces. I know that there are, in many nations, restrictions on engagement but I will not cease in my efforts to reduce those limitations,” he told the Sunday newspaper, adding that Afghanistan would be “a long-term engagement”.
His comments came a day after German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung ruled out stationing troops in the south, saying Berlin`s focus on reconstruction efforts in the relatively calm north was justified.
Commanders in Afghanistan have been calling for around 7,500 extra troops to be deployed in the south. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) comprises some 42,000 troops from 39 countries.
“Nato as an alliance has been looking at what it needs to do and what more needs to be done to fight the Taliban, to permit the Afghan people to have security so that reconstruction can take place,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on Friday.
Over the last year, Britain has increased its presence in Afghanistan. There now are about 7,700 British soldiers there, most of them in the restive southern region.
Belgium announced on Friday that it would send four F-16 fighter-bombers and around a hundred soldiers from Sept 1 in Kandahar. Belgium currently has 418 troops in Afghanistan.
Mr Appathurai acknowledged “significant increases” in the size of the Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, but said that the “very public calls on each other, and in particular where it has an overtone of accusation, which on occasion it does,” tended to obscure real progress on the ground.
Such calls also give “a false impression to our public of a lack of solidarity,” he added.
The Nato secretary general “would like to see us move back to doing this (force generation) amongst allies as we normally do — and that`s behind closed doors.” —AFP