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NATO had little official reaction on Wednesday to comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling into question the alliance’s commitments in Afghanistan.

In a strongly worded rebuke during his testimony Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee, Gates said he was frustrated at “our allies not being able to step up to the plate.”

Gates was sharply critical of NATO nations for not supplying the promised number of trainers, infantry troops and helicopters for the Afghan war. According to Gates, alliance members have not delivered on promises of 20 helicopters, three infantry battalions and 3,500 more military trainers.

“I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates said.

NATO officials on Wednesday declined to directly address Gates’ comments, with a spokesman saying, “NATO never comments on statements by authorities of individual NATO nations.”

However, the spokesman did say that “NATO has recently decided to outsource airlift capability that could include helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that are to be used to transport supplies and equipment. The contract award is expected this month, with airlift service beginning in early 2008.”

And while acknowledging continuing shortfalls, “Over the last few months, [NATO] nations have increased their troop contributions to ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], in particular by sending trainers to Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to help train and professionalize the Afghan National Security Forces.”

A spokesman for NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps — which last year became the first NATO unit to have overall command of the war in Afghanistan — declined to comment on Gates’ remarks. The spokesman, Maj. Craig Childs, said the command “recognizes some of the challenges may be the same [as during their stint], but the command does not want to speculate on current shortcomings.”

Gates’ comments come at the end of a year in which the U.S. administration and military have repeatedly chastised European NATO allies’ commitments in Afghanistan. Many of the nations have combat troops on the ground, but others have troops operating under “caveats” that restrict their missions.

Officials from both the U.S. and NATO have expressed growing concerns about the security situation in Afghanistan. Unlike in Iraq, violence has increased and the Taliban is widely described as “resurgent” in parts of Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported this week that violence in Afghanistan is up 27 percent this year.

According to current figures, the U.S. has around 25,000 troops in Afghanistan with NATO providing some 28,000 more.

Just this week, NATO and U.S. troops re-took Musa Qala, the last sizeable town controlled by the Taliban.

Gates acknowledged the combat roles of British, Canadian and Australian forces in particular.

“We should not use a brush that paints too broadly in speaking of our allies and friends,” Gates said.


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