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U.S. urges NATO over Afghan troops

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  • U.S. defense secretary urges NATO to commit more resources to Afghan fight
  • Ministers from 8 NATO countries gather to discuss Afghanistan's future
  • British Defense Secretary Des Browne is also asking for a bigger contribution
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Defense and foreign ministers from eight NATO countries were gathering Friday in Scotland for a two-day conference to discuss Afghanistan's future, where the U.S. defense secretary plans to press allies to commit more resources to the fight there.

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There are more than 46,000 troops from the U.S., NATO allies and other countries in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is urging European allies to bolster their contributions of troops and helicopters to the region.

"Secretary Gates has some clear ideas about what's wrong with our Afghan strategy and how it should be adjusted," a Pentagon spokesman said this week. "Over the course of the next couple of days in Edinburgh, he will have a chance to delve more deeply into those ideas with his counterparts."

The conference in the Scottish city of Edinburgh was being hosted by the British government and includes representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania, and Estonia. All countries are operating in southern Afghanistan.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne said Thursday he, too, would be asking the allies to step up their contributions.

"Strategic success and the long-term security of Afghanistan cannot be guaranteed without a concerted push," Browne said in a statement. "We must give the Afghan authorities the support they need to deliver the kind of success that we all recognize is vital, not just for security in Afghanistan, but for security in the wider world."

Both Browne and Gates have just completed separate trips to Afghanistan. Both cite progress in the country but say more resources are needed to ensure stability.

"The Taliban and their former guests, al Qaeda, do not have the ability to reimpose their rule," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "But only in a truly secure environment can reconstruction projects take root and rule of law be consolidated. That environment has not yet been fully achieved, but we are working toward it."

About 26,000 U.S. troops and more than 20,000 from NATO allies and other countries are currently in Afghanistan.

Gates has said the number of additional troops he wants from the allies is well below 10,000, including about 3,500 trainers for Afghan troops and police, and about 20 helicopters.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates is pleased with the contributions of Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands, noting that Britain in particular is heavily committed in Afghanistan.

"The Brits are doing more than their fair share of the work abroad," Morrell said. "We'd like to see other countries commit similar resources to our combined efforts abroad."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week announced his government will spend 450 million pounds ($900 million) in Afghanistan over the next five years for development and stabilization, and he promised more equipment, including helicopters, for British forces serving there.

Ten percent of the money Brown pledged is specifically intended to fight the drug trade in Afghanistan and eradicate poppy production. Drugs are another issue which Gates may also raise with the allies.

Morrell said the United States wants to work with the Afghan government to come up with an eradication strategy for poppies. Washington has been pushing the idea of aerial eradication, which the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai doesn't favor, but Morrell said other options exist which the allies should discuss.

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Retired U.S. Gen. James Jones, the former top NATO commander who was responsible for Afghanistan until last December, said he believes drugs are the main problem hindering progress in Afghanistan now.

"Afghanistan, if it's not a narco-state, it's heading that way," Jones told CNN. "And the domino effects of that drug production are corrupting the country, increasing criminality, and funding the insurgency by virtue of the revenues that are generated." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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