Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, conducts a media roundtable at his hotel with reporters Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 before attending a variety of NATO Defense Minister functions in London. (AP Photo/Paul J. Richards,Pool)
LONDON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday at the conclusion of a NATO meeting he notified the allies that they will be expected to share the cost of a planned expansion of the Afghan national army.
"I let a number of my colleagues know that we would be in touch in terms of the importance of sharing the cost of the increased size of the Afghan army because, after all, the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces - and in particular the army - in the long term is NATO's exit strategy," he said.
The Afghan army is to grow from the current 80,000 soldiers to 134,000 as part of a strategy for building a security force that eventually can stand on its own to prevent the country from again becoming a haven for terrorists.
Gates spoke with reporters after signing two agreements with his Czech counterpart. One laid out the legal basis for U.S. troops to operate a missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic; the other was on strategic defense cooperation. Both deals are linked to U.S. plans for developing a European-based expansion of a missile defense network. The radar would be linked to 10 missile interceptors based in Poland.
Improving Afghan governance and civic development are important elements of the U.S. and NATO strategy, Gates said.
"But turning security responsibilities over to the Afghans themselves at some future date is really the goal that we all have in mind and we need to be prepared to share the cost" of getting to that point, he said.
Earlier Friday, Gates participated in a NATO defense ministers meeting that focused on pushing forward with long-stalled plans to improve the alliance's ability to better use military forces. The talks produced no new agreements but were intended to pave the way for decisions next spring.
The defense chiefs also discussed the implications of Russia's armed incursion into Georgia in August.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne said NATO has shown a "unity of purpose" in response to the Russian incursion, but the alliance has fallen into "bad habits" in trying to adapt its military forces to 21st century warfare.
"We are lacking sufficient capabilities in key areas" such as airlift that would make the forces of each NATO member more useful beyond its own borders, Browne said. April.
Britain, among other NATO countries, has publicly backed Georgia, including its desire to join NATO.
"We have been able to say to him that we are in full support of the territorial integrity of Georgia," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday following talks with Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze. "We will be giving financial and economic support to Georgia and urging other countries to do so."
Gurgenidze told reporters he welcomes backing from Europe. "This is very important for Georgia at this time, as Georgia faces the existential crossroads of either staying the course as a young liberal European democracy with a vibrant market economy, or degenerating into something weighed down by its Soviet past," he said.
Gates, a Soviet affairs during his career at the CIA, said he does not believe NATO faces the likelihood of war with Russia. "I think we need to proceed with some caution because there clearly is a range of views in the alliance about how to respond," he said Thursday.
Germany and others in Western Europe intend to block further U.S. efforts this year to give the go-ahead to put Georgia on a formal track toward membership, although they are leery of giving the appearance of caving in to Russia on this issue.
Gates also said that while Russia's more aggressive actions, including its incursion into Georgia, are worrisome to many in NATO, there is no expectation of war with Russia.
"It's hard for me to imagine that those who are currently in NATO feel a real military threat coming from Russia," he said. "To the degree there is a sense of concern, my guess is it has more to do with pressure and intimidation than it does with any prospect of real military action."
In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country would not yield to Western pressure or be pushed into isolation over the war in Georgia. He reaffirmed his push for a new European-wide security pact, saying NATO alone cannot ensure security on the continent. "It only has provoked the conflict," he said, in a reference to the war in Georgia.
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