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NATO Considers Joint Mission in Afghanistan

Germany, France Criticize U.S. Plan to Merge Peacekeepers, Combat Troops

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2004; Page A25

POIANA BRASOV, Romania, Oct. 13 -- NATO defense ministers discussed a U.S.-backed proposal on Wednesday to merge Afghan peacekeeping and anti-terrorism operations under a joint command, despite criticism of the plan by Germany and France.

Though no decision was announced during an informal conference at this ski resort north of the capital, Bucharest, officials said most members of NATO would accept combining the 20,000 peacekeepers and 9,000 combat troops under a NATO flag.

U.S. officials, led at the conference by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, appeared optimistic that a joint mission could be underway in coming months. But German and French officials were adamantly against it. German Defense Minister Peter Struck told reporters that German troops would not participate in combat operations in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials expressed concern about one variation of the plan, in which countries could restrict the use of their troops for combat missions. U.S. officials cited possible confusion and limits on the abilities of commanders to deploy troops at their discretion.

While the Afghan peacekeeping operation focuses on reconstruction efforts, combat troops are searching for members of al Qaeda and remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban government.

At the conference, hosted by Romania, the newest member of the military alliance, U.S. officials were promoting a global effort to transform military forces into more deployable and efficient units, capable of responding to terrorist threats in a vastly changed and unpredictable world.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters after the meetings that officials spent hours talking about how to make the 2.5 million European troops more capable of deploying outside of their home countries. NATO has set goals of having each member nation able to deploy at least 40 percent of its forces abroad with at least 8 percent of each nation's military actually deployed at any given time. France, Britain and the United States are leading the effort.

"There has been some movement, but there is enormous room for change," Burns said. About half of the NATO nations are not able to meet the requirements but are working toward the goals. Burns also said there was discussion about how to increase defense spending in Europe to keep pace with U.S. efforts. The United States budgets $417 billion for defense spending, while other NATO members spend $200 billion a year combined.

Rumsfeld met with the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, on Wednesday night, pushing up a meeting scheduled for Thursday because of inclement weather expected in the Transylvania region.

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