NATO alliance countries cannot pick the missions they undertake in Afghanistan, the alliance’s chief said, reiterating complaints that some European nations were not bearing enough of the load in that war.

The comments by Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a conference Monday in Berlin were viewed as a not-so-subtle criticism of Germany, which has more than 3,000 troops in the northern part of Afghanistan.

The problem, NATO officials say, is that Germany — and some other alliance nations — are unwilling to move their troops to the more unstable south, where heavy fighting with Taliban and other militants is expected to increase this spring.

“In an alliance in which everyone stands for each other, there can not be a division of labor in which one side takes care of the fighting and the other specializes in the aftermath of the conflict,” de Hoop Scheffer said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Each NATO nation, he said, is responsible for communicating to its own public why the mission in Afghanistan is important.

“It is and will remain the duty of national governments and parliaments to communicate security policy,” de Hoop Scheffer said.

Germany has some 3,400 troops in northern Afghanistan under a mandate that the German parliament must renew each year. A total of 29 German troops and police have been killed in the war.

A large majority of the German population opposes any shift of German troops into a more direct combat role in the south.

At the same Monday conference in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said no such move would be in the offing.

The criticism from NATO’s chief follows several months of similar complaints from top U.S. officials, including unusually harsh words earlier this year from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which he later sought to soften.

Last week at a Brussels NATO conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concerns about “burden sharing” in the Afghan fight.

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