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NATO still needs more trainers of Afghan soldiers and police to bring its training mission to full strength, with some countries failing to meet pledges they made last year, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday.

Rasmussen, meeting with defense ministers of NATO countries in Brussels, warned he would “put a lot of pressure” on them on Friday, when the ministers focus on Afghanistan.

“All of you want to provide the conditions for a gradual transition to Afghan lead” so that NATO troops can take on other roles and eventually withdraw, he said. “But if you are to fulfill that goal, you also have to invest in transition. And our training mission is an investment in transition.”

NATO officials in March elicited pledges for 600 more trainers to augment the 1,000 promised by allies late last year.

While pushing allies to provide more trainers, Rasmussen added that the build-up of Afghan security forces this year is ahead of schedule.

Earlier this week, he said the Afghan army will hit its target of 134,000 troops by August, three months ahead of schedule.

Rasmussen said the global economic crisis has put “enormous pressure” on the member countries and there will be less money for defense for quite some time.

“Managing the effects of the financial crisis, this will be one of the defining issues of the next few years, for all our governments,” he said.

But he warned members to avoid “salami slicing,” or arbitrarily cutting a given percent from defense budgets.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates touched on the topic after a meeting with new British Foreign Secretary Dr. Liam Fox in London on Tuesday.

Economic realities mean that the U.S. and NATO states will have to balance essential capabilities and more fiscal prudence, Gates said.

“The U.S. can’t have a strong military without a strong economy,” he said.

Rasmussen said proposals are on the table to cut the number of NATO alliance committees and establish an independent command structure to turn NATO into a leaner machine.

“There will be less money for defense for quite some time, that’s just the way it is,” Rasmussen said. “But we can use this crisis as motivation to make the right changes, to focus on the right things and to do as much as possible together.”


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