COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - NATO leaders are likely to commit more troops this week to help fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan but the force will still fall short of what commanders want, the U.S. defense secretary said on Tuesday.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Paris might agree to send “a few hundred” more troops to bolster the 47,000-strong NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Leaders of the 26-member alliance meet in the Romanian capital Bucharest this week with the mission high on their agenda amid concern about rising violence, particularly in southern Afghanistan.
Robert Gates said the force’s commander wanted an extra three brigades for the mission, but acknowledged that it would take longer to send extra troops.
The size of a brigade varies depending on its function and nationality but a U.S. combat brigade has between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.
“I think that we will see some additional commitments in Bucharest,” Gates said at a joint news conference with his Danish counterpart Soren Gade.
“I don’t think they’ll be anywhere near that number. This is a challenge we’ll have to keep working at.”
NATO officials say the force is roughly between 1,500 and 3,000 troops short of the requirements laid out in an alliance document setting out the units needed for its mission.
Gates on Monday described even that document, the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, as “pretty ambitious.”
In describing a larger shortfall, Gates was referring to the number of troops the force’s top commander, U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, would like to carry out his mission, a senior U.S. defense official said.
Gates noted the United States was deploying some 3,500 Marines to Afghanistan to fill some gaps among training and combat forces but those troops would leave in November.
“Now the challenge is what comes behind those Marines,” he said.
He did not say which nations he expected to pledge more troops in Bucharest.
In Paris, Fallon told a parliamentary debate on Tuesday that France, which has 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, might send “a few hundred extra soldiers” to reinforce the command structures in Kabul and to train Afghan troops elsewhere in the country.
On Monday, NATO aspirant Georgia offered several hundred troops.
Gates praised Denmark, which has some 550 combat troops in southern Afghanistan, as one of Washington’s closest allies.
Fourteen Danish soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, giving the nation of some five million people one of the NATO mission’s highest per capita troop casualty rates.
But Gade said Denmark remained committed to Afghanistan.
“We will keep doing the job in the south,” he said.
Editing by Sami Aboudi