NATO Struggles to Find Troops for Missions

NATO foreign ministers pledged Thursday to speed the expansion of alliance peacekeeping in Afghanistan and boost military training for Iraq, but failed to come up immediately with the troops for both operations.

Alliance officials expressed disappointment that ministers had not committed all the troops, planes and helicopters needed to extend the 8,000-strong Afghan peacekeeping force from its bases in Kabul and the north into the west of the country.

However, they said progress had been made and expressed hope that remaining gaps could be plugged by early next year. A statement said ministers were "resolved to accelerate this expansion."

Talks were continuing on efforts to raise the 300 instructors NATO needs to keep its pledge to set up a military academy for Iraqi officers outside Baghdad.

Opening the meeting, NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search) appealed to European allies who have been slow in providing troops.

"The coming challenges in the regions where we are engaged leave us hardly any choice," he said. "They call for a heightened commitment from NATO."

De Hoop Scheffer called on all allies to show a "sense of responsibility" and said the costly and difficult missions required "fair burden-sharing."

NATO already has about 60 soldiers in its training mission in Baghdad, but delays in finding instructors have cast doubt on plans to have the academy running before Iraq's elections next month.

Germany made clear it was not going go back on a pledge to keep its troops out. "Our position is clear. We will not send German soldiers to Iraq," Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (search) said going into the meeting.

The United States is also pushing for allies to step forward in Afghanistan, and to encourage them has agreed to put some of its troops in western Afghanistan under NATO command.

The westward move is part of a plan for the NATO force to gradually take over peacekeeping duties all around Afghanistan from the 18,000-strong, U.S.-led fighting force that defeated the Taliban regime and its al-Qaida allies.

Ministers also considered ways to help President Hamid Karzai (search) fight Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade, but no firm decisions were taken.

Despite American impatience over the reluctance of some European allies to commit troops, Secretary of State Colin Powell has stressed the need for the trans-Atlantic allies to put last year's dispute over the Iraq war behind them.

"Whatever our differences about the past and about Iraq, we are now looking forward," he said in a speech in Brussels Wednesday. "We're reaching out to Europe and we hope that Europe will reach out to us."

Powell is making his last trip to Europe before handing over next month to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

He said President Bush intends to mend ties with Europe, pointing out that Bush plans to visit NATO Feb. 22 on the first foreign trip of his second term.

Powell received warm words of farewell from his European counterparts. Fischer called him "extremely fair and professional" even during the tough times of the Iraq crisis. Diplomats said Fischer gave Powell German beer as a gift.

Ministers also stressed the need for their 18,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo to remain alert ahead of talks expected next year on whether the province should secede from Serbia — an aspiration of the Albanian majority fiercely opposed by Kosovo Serbs.

"As the security environment remains fragile, we have agreed KFOR will maintain its operational capabilities," they said in a statement.