NATO defense ministers Friday approved the kind of broad counterinsurgency approach for Afghanistan that is the basis for the pending troop request by the NATO and General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. Afghan commander. The ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the defense ministers have a "general shared view" that the alliance must make Afghanistan strong enough to defend itself against militant forces. And he said the ministers also agree on the approach for accomplishing that.
"There is the support of this counterinsurgency strategy, which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems in Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists," Rasmussein said. "What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilizes the whole Afghan society."
That has been the core of the debate in Washington, with President Barack Obama reviewing the counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan he announced in March. The review was prompted, in part, by a grim assessment from General McChrystal, who is here at the NATO meeting to provide a direct readout to the defense ministers. The general's secret assessment, leaked to the Washington Post (newspaper) several weeks ago, follows the president's basic approach, but says it could fail unless he gets more troops, Voice of America reports.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reassured NATO allies that the United States is committed to its mission in Afghanistan, even though the White House has yet to decide whether to send more American troops there.
The Pentagon chief told a group of NATO defense ministers in Slovakia Friday that it is "vastly premature" to draw conclusions about a new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.
Gates said the Obama administration is studying whether to refine its current approach in light of the political situation in Afghanistan, but he said any U.S. troop reduction is unlikely. Obama is closely monitoring events in Afghanistan before making a final decision, Voice of America reports.
It was also reported, General McChrystal was not scheduled to make any public comments in Bratislava. This reserve was not unexpected, as some administration officials have criticized his recent statements, including a speech in London, as an attempt to pressure the White House to act.
The general and his aides have denied they were playing politics, and have expressed respect for the importance of the civilian-led policy review process now underway in Washington. General McChrystal said in a recent interview that his ability to succeed requires a unified, government-wide strategy and that he welcomed a process that resulted in a consensus from his civilian bosses that would include clear instructions on the way ahead, The New York Times reports.