NATO hopes to boost training teams in Afghanistan

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 9:14 AM

NATO leaders expect member states to commit more troops to train Afghanistan's expanding security forces at a meeting of alliance military representatives this month, officials said Tuesday.

The one-day conference by military officials fits into a plan by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to expand the Afghan National Army from its present strength of 94,000 troops to its authorized level of 134,000.

McChrystal's strategy focuses on improving the capabilities of the government forces to provide security for the Afghan people by ensuring a higher level of training and mentoring. The ultimate goal is to nearly double the size of Afghan armed forces to about 250,000 men, and to expand and professionalize the 97,000-member police force.

The conference is scheduled for Nov. 23 at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium, said Col. Greg Julian, an aide to Adm. James Stavridis, the top allied commander in Europe.

The aim of the meeting is to recruit new training teams for Afghanistan, not to address McChrystal's wider strategy for the war nor his proposal for tens of thousands more combat troops that the Obama administration is now considering, a NATO official said. That subject is expected to be discussed at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers next month.

"They'll be discussing what it's going to take to accomplish that," Julian said.

He said that member states are normally represented at such conferences by a general officer accompanied by civilian political participants.

Two NATO officials said the alliance expects on Nov. 23 to obtain commitments from allies for more personnel and resources to train, mentor and equip the Afghan government forces. Both officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in keeping with NATO regulations.

The U.S. and NATO previously maintained separate training missions in Afghanistan. They recently established a joint headquarters known as the NATO Training Mission to handle the expanded effort. It will be commanded by U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, whose appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 28.

NATO says it currently fields 62 operational mentor and liaison teams embedded with Afghan forces and that the an additional seven are needed immediately. But at least 113 teams will be required for the expanded effort envisaged by McChrystal. Each team consists of up to 30 members. Officials say that the training mission must be reinforced by several thousand men to deal with additional requirements.

Alliance governments are engaged in intense deliberations regarding McChrystal's plan for an expansion of the 71,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, nearly half of which is American. The U.S. military also has another 36,000 soldiers in Afghanistan who serve outside NATO under independent command.

But opinion polls in many troop-providing countries indicate growing opposition to sending more soldiers to Afghanistan during a global financial crisis, shrinking defense budgets and public disillusionment with the war.

Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt _ whose country holds the European Union's rotating chairmanship _ said he expects no change in the overall number of European troops based there.

"I think they're going to stay roughly the same," Bildt said. He said the 27-nation bloc would "substantially increase" the amount of development assistance for Afghanistan.

Bildt provided no details, but EU member states have granted about euro9 billion ($13 billion) in aid to Afghanistan since 2002.