NATO chief optimistic new elite force will be OK'd

NATO chief optimistic new elite force will be approved at next week's summit NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday there were still shortfalls in the alliance's elite new response force, but remained confident that next week's NATO summit would be able to declare it ready for action. "We are very, very close indeed, but we are not entirely there yet," he said after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. Before a NATO summit opening Tuesday in Riga, Latvia, de Hoop Scheffer said he was still doing his utmost to muster the remaining troops for the NATO Response Force. "There are still some forces lacking for the next rotation of the NRF," he said. "I am busy, and other people are busy, to make that happen." Any failure to declare the force ready for action would be considered a disappointment at the two-day summit. De Hoop Scheffer insisted, however, the necessary manpower would still be found. "We will be able at Riga to take a decision. That is upon military advice," he said. Under the NRF plan, nations commit units into the force for six-month rotations. The rotation due to start on Jan. 1 is supposed to be the first certified as able to tackle the full range of missions. De Hoop Scheffer was still looking to fill that rotation. He was not specific on troop numbers. The vanguard unit would be able to deploy at short notice around the world to handle missions, ranging from high-intensity combat to distributing humanitarian aid. At full strength, the response force, or NRF, is supposed to comprise land troops, backed by warplanes and a naval task force - with a total of 25,000 personnel. NATO officials have said shortfalls include transport planes, helicopters, intelligence units and battlefield logistics to ensure supplies of food, ammunition and spare parts over long distances. Previous rotations have tested prototype and smaller scale forces. In 2005, they were used to rush aid from NATO nations to earthquake hit Pakistan and the US after Hurricane Katrina.