- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

The leaders of NATO countries that meet in Istanbul, Turkey, beginning today are likely to reach some degree of common ground on key security issues, most prominently on Afghanistan and Iraq. On Saturday, President Bush ended a two-day summit meeting with the European Union on a positive note, declaring an end to “bitter differences” with Europeans over the war in Iraq.

Last month, Mr. Bush’s recommendation of a NATO role in Iraq was rejected at the G8 meeting in Georgia. But a request by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s interim prime minister, for “technical assistance and training” for Iraqi security forces has apparently tipped the scales in favor of a larger NATO role. On Friday, diplomats said that in response to Mr. Allawi’s request, France and Germany had dropped their opposition to Mr. Bush’s proposal to have NATO train the Iraqis. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, suggested that the training session could be a first step leading to greater involvement for the alliance in Iraq. More details of the operation are expected to be announced as early as today in Istanbul, when Mr. Bush and 25 other alliance leaders will likely give formal approval to the training program.

The military mission in Afghanistan has been a unifying effort within NATO, which took command over the 6,500-strong International Security Assistance Force last August. Despite the unified front, NATO countries have been delinquent in sending promised resources to Afghanistan. According to a recent report by the General Accounting Office, between 2001 and 2003, the United States pledged $3.3 billion but gave $1.42 billion, while the European Commission pledged $1.24 billion but gave $386 million. The report said an effort to train Afghan police officials was well behind schedule. While 20,000 were slated to be trained by the end of this month and 50,000 by the end of the year, only 9,400 have been trained so far.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, meanwhile, has been reduced to touring NATO capitals hat in hand, entreating governments to send badly needed — and often previously promised — supplies. “I don’t mind taking out my begging bowl once in a while. But as a standard operating procedure, this is simply intolerable,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said last Monday. The needs of the NATO operation run from big — such as a new headquarters and operational reserve — to small — such as a handful of C-130 transport planes, medium-lift helicopters and infantry and intelligence assets — Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. Given NATO’s vast assets, he added, “we have to ask ourselves why we still cannot fill [these needs]. What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?” Indeed. NATO was given a U.N. mandate nine months ago to expand its operations beyond Kabul, and the organization planned to deploy five provisional teams around the country to provide reconstruction workers with military cover. So far, only a German-run team in the northern region of Kunduz is operational.

Starting today in Istanbul, getting leaders to agree on coordinated missions will be an important part of the agenda. The mission in Afghanistan proves, however, that holding countries to their pledges remains just as critical.

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