Gates: NATO Steps Up, Pakistan Makes Strides

KABUL–(ENEWSPF)–Dec. 8, 2009 – NATO’s commitment of 7,000 additional troops for the International Security Assistance Force it leads in Afghanistan comes as a pleasant surprise to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who calls it a sign of the alliance’s renewed commitment there.

“Frankly, my hope was that we could get 5,000, so a commitment for [7,000] was better than I expected,” Gates told reporters traveling with him on the way here today. “And from what I am hearing coming out of the NATO meeting is that the commitments may go higher than that.” NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels, Belgium, last week, and a force-generation conference at the alliance’s military headquarters ended yesterday.

More countries are expected to come forward with more troops, Gates said, but need to wait until elections take place in their countries, or until after the January NATO conference being set up in London to discuss the matter.

Gates cited a big change in NATO’s attitude, but said he can’t pinpoint whether it’s linked to the new U.S. administration, his own personal approach or another factor.

“Since spring, I have been surprised by the change of tone on the part of our allies,” he said. He noted that Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has seen a similar shift as more military leaders express a willingness to send additional forces to support NATO’s effort in Afghanistan.

“There has been a … realization of the importance of being successful in Afghanistan, of the consequences to the alliance of not being successful, and just a greater sense of commitment to this thing,” Gates said.

Gates had pressed his NATO counterparts during an October conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, to provide more troops for the mission. Since then, he said, he’s had many telephone conversations with them about the matter, and hosted several defense ministers at the Pentagon in the lead-up to President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.

The result, he said, appears to have paid off.

Meanwhile, Gates reaffirmed continued U.S. support to Pakistan as it fights terrorism on its side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

“The key thing to remember about the relationship with Pakistan is, it’s Pakistan’s foot on the accelerator,” he said. “And we are prepared to move ahead with that relationship and cooperation just as fast as they are prepared to accept it.”

Gates said he’s impressed by the progress Pakistani troops are making.

“The Pakistanis have done so much more than any of us would have expected or believed a year or a year and a half ago,” he said. “They are taking some serious casualties. They are in a serious fight. And they have all the support from us we can give.”