- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006

BRUSSELS — A NATO summit in Latvia tomorrow and Wednesday was meant to be about the alliance’s transformation from a North Atlantic defense organization into a 21st-century security body with global reach.

Instead, it will be dominated by discussion about how to win the war in Afghanistan, where the 26-member bloc is engaged in an increasingly fierce fight with Taliban rebels.

The news coming out of the war-torn Central Asian country does not make for happy reading in NATO’s Brussels headquarters. Surging violence has killed more than 3,700 people this year, suicide bombings have escalated and the opium trade that fuels the warlords is booming.

NATO has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than twice as many as three years ago, but military chiefs say that is not enough to quash the Taliban insurgency in the south.

Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s top commander, called for 2,500 extra troops in September. His request has been ignored in most alliance capitals, with the exception of Poland, which has offered to send 900 more soldiers in the new year.

“If we’re properly organized and we bring all elements of our efforts together in cohesion, we will win,” Gen. Jones told reporters last week. “If we don’t, it will be longer and it will be more difficult, and it will be more costly.”

Asked whether the alliance was winning its first battle outside Europe, a NATO official told The Washington Times: “We’re doing OK, but that is not enough.”

President Bush will prod European members to plug the 15 percent shortfall in troops at the summit, the first to be held in a former Soviet state. He also will lean on European nations such as Italy and Germany to lift restrictions on moving troops from the relatively peaceful north to the warring south.

“Four allies are doing a disproportionate share of the fighting,” said Daniel Fried, secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. He was referring to the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, which have suffered heavy troop losses in the south. “We hope Germany understands removing caveats is a question of allied solidarity.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out such a deployment, but NATO officials expect leaders to reach a “gentleman’s agreement” in Riga that would require allies to help one another in emergencies.

NATO leaders also are expected to approve a strategy document that aims to provide political direction for the alliance in the next 10 to 15 years.

The document identifies terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as the most dangerous threats to members, and urges the 57-year-old organization to expand its role to include counterterrorism, cyber-security and the protection of energy supplies. It also says the bloc should be able to fight more than one major military operation at a time.

At the 24-hour session, Mr. Bush will propose a new NATO partnership with countries such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Sweden and Finland that stops short of membership but involves closer military links. However, formal ties with countries outside the Euro-Atlantic area have met with opposition in France and little enthusiasm in Asian countries.

While insisting that its door is “always open,” NATO is reluctant to admit a host of new members. Alliance hopefuls such as Croatia, Albania and Macedonia had hoped for an invitation to join the club at Riga, but officials say this will not happen.

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