Gates urges more NATO support as Afghan death toll exceeds Iraq's

US defense secretary says he expects "government decisions and actions to match government rhetoric."

gates worried 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gates worried 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed for NATO allies to step up their efforts in Afghanistan on Friday as he reported that the number of coalition soldiers killed in action there exceeded the death toll in Iraq for the first time last month. "I told them my expectations are simple: I expect government decisions and actions to match government rhetoric," Gates said after two days of talks with his NATO counterparts. "Last month for the first time more coalition forces were killed in Afghanistan than were killed in Iraq." US officials said 18 coalition troops, including 13 Americans, were killed in action last month in Afghanistan, compared with 16 killed in Iraq, of which 14 were Americans. The figures reflect the threat from Taliban militants and their al-Qaida allies who are increasingly adopting the suicide attacks and roadside bomb tactics used by insurgents in Iraq. NATO's force of 52,000 troops has doubled over the past two years, but still lacks key resources such as transport aircraft, intelligence units, instructors for Afghan forces and quick reaction troops. "Many of the same shortfalls that existed 18 month ago still exist today," Gates complained in a news conference. "It's important that we live up to our pledges." There were signs of allies coming forward with new commitments. Gates welcomed signals from Rome that Italy may relax restrictions that prevent its 2,350 troops in Afghanistan from moving into the most dangerous parts of the country. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said his country wanted to triple its training efforts for Afghan security forces and hinted that Berlin could expand the limit on its force levels in Afghanistan beyond the current maximum of 3,500. Officials stressed the importance of NATO finding replacements for 2,400 US Marines who have scored successes against the Taliban in one of the toughest parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks, but are due to pull out by November. "They have had this astonishing effect on part of southern Helmand," British Defense Secretary Des Browne said of the US 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived in April. "They have suffered significant damage, the Taliban, in that area." Washington has said it won't be sending in extra troops to replace the Marines and wants European allies to fill the gap. Browne said it was too early for any decisions on who will take over, but said military commanders were making it a priority. "You can rest assured that we don't intend to give up what we've created there. We intend to configure our forces collectively in such a way as we can protect that (the gains made by the Marines). That's the best I can say to you at the moment," he told reporters. Part of the solution is expected to come from France, which is sending troops to volatile eastern Afghanistan to free up about 1,000 US troops to move into the south. Gates has long complained that many European nations have refused to send troops to southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar where British, Canadian, US and Dutch troops have borne the brunt of fighting over the past two years.