February 5, 2008 / 9:28 AM / in 10 years

Poland raps NATO members over Afghan commitments

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Poland’s foreign minister complained on Monday that some NATO members were not committing enough troops in Afghanistan and said there should be “no room for free-riding” inside the Alliance.

Radoslaw Sikorski said in a speech that the gap between what NATO wanted to achieve in Afghanistan and was in fact able to do “cannot have at its source the unwillingness of some counties to do their fair share.”

The issue of troop commitments will be one of the main topics at a NATO leaders’ summit in Bucharest in early April. Poland already has 1,200 soldiers in Afghanistan and plans to send 400 more this year.

Many nations with troops in Afghanistan have placed them in quiet areas and added a list of restrictions, or caveats, on what they are allowed to do.

This means most of the fighting against Taliban militants is left to Canada, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands, who all want others to contribute more.

“We will certainly, together with Canada, be arguing very forcefully in the run-up to the Bucharest summit that more needs to be done, that burdens have to be shared more fairly and that there is no room for free-riding,” Sikorski told reporters after his speech.

“Who gives without caveats gives twice ... other countries have no troops in Afghanistan at all,” he said, without identifying which nations he felt could be doing more.

Canada said last month it would pull its 2,500-strong military mission out of southern Afghanistan on schedule early next year unless NATO sent in an extra 1,000 troops and Ottawa procured helicopters and aerial reconnaissance vehicles.

Sikorski said Poland -- which joined NATO in 1999 -- was militarily stretched and could not provide more troops to the Kandahar region where Canada is based. It would however share the use of two helicopters with Canada, he added.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month that the alliance’s very future would be in jeopardy if the Afghan mission failed. Sikorski said NATO’s efforts needed better co-ordination and that the international community could not expect to leave Afghanistan any time soon.

“We should be under no illusion that progress can somehow be jump-started. We are in for the long haul,” he said.

He also said Pakistan had to more do stop the flow of militants and weapons across its mountainous border with southern Afghanistan.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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