NICE, France – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) told NATO allies Thursday that new commitments to assist U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq make success there more likely.
At a meeting of NATO (search) ministers in Nice, Rumsfeld told a news conference, "The breadth of involvement on the part of NATO countries in these kinds of activities puts a lot of countries with a stake in the success of those activities, and that's a good thing."
He noted that some countries had not committed troops to Iraq, and he welcomed their willingness to act now, nearly two years after the war began.
"Everyone does not have to do everything, and indeed it's unlikely everyone will do everything," he said.
U.S. allies in Europe have so far mustered fewer than 100 trainers to go to Iraq to assist in the modest NATO mission there. A top American general said Thursday he was hopeful they would offer several dozen more in the coming weeks.
"We've asked for more than what has been provided so far," said Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the effort to train and equip Iraq's security and military forces. Petraeus joined Rumsfeld at the meeting.
Later Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search), speaking to reporters in Nice, said he hoped to see the total NATO commitment in Iraq rise to about 360, a figure that includes security personnel to protect the trainers.
The NATO mission in Iraq, while small, aims to develop Iraq's military on a strategic level, turning out 1,000 officers a year, rather than train individual soldiers. The NATO effort includes work to set up military staff and officer colleges. Bush administration officials have also advocated the NATO mission as a way of pushing the alliance to transform into a more deployable, internationally involved force.
Some NATO allies have declined Washington's appeal to send trainers to Iraq but have offered equipment, money or training outside Iraqi borders. Scheffer said he hoped to be able to announce that all 26 NATO nations were assisting the Iraqi effort in some way by Feb. 22, when President Bush joins other NATO leaders for a summit in Brussels, Belgium (search).
The Spanish defense minister on Wednesday said Spain would train soldiers in land-mine removal techniques, and the French minister renewed an offer for French gendarmes to set up a training center for Iraqi paramilitary forces in Qatar. France opposed the Iraq war, and Spanish voters have elected a new government whose members also opposed it. Germany, another war opponent, already conducts training for Iraqi security personnel in the United Arab Emirates.
Officials said roughly 100 trainers are in Iraq now, some of them Americans working under the NATO banner. Petraeus said the goal was to get that to 159 trainers from NATO nations.
The NATO secretary-general also said the alliance was ready to expand peacekeeping and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan, committing about 900 troops to assist in the western part of the country along the Iranian border.
Italy, Spain and Lithuania ending months of delay by offering troops to support U.S. forces under NATO command.
"NATO is committed to Afghanistan for the long term," Scheffer said. The 900 would include 400 drawn from Kabul and the rest brought in from outside the country.
Germany has offered to increase its commitment in Afghanistan. Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters Wednesday night that German troops could take a lead role in northern Afghanistan, relieving British forces who are expected to expand NATO's mission into a southern sector around Kandahar later this year.
NATO's moves into the west and south of Afghanistan are part of a gradual plan for the 8,500-strong NATO peacekeeping force to take over responsibility for the whole country, integrating the larger U.S.-led combat force still fighting Taliban and al-Qaida remnants.
NATO diplomats hoped progress Thursday could set the alliance on course to integrate the two forces early in 2006.
Washington has long sought such a fusion, hoping to free the thousands of front-line troops it still has in Afghanistan. However, the U.S. will keep some units in Afghanistan, serving with NATO or hunting Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders believed hiding along the mountainous Afghan-Pakistani border.
Rumsfeld suggested he wished NATO moved more quickly.
"NATO does over time find its way to the right decision," he said.