Strasbourg: NATO leaders opened talks Saturday on a new strategy for Afghanistan, more than an hour late after attempting to resolve a dispute over the appointment of a new chief for their alliance.
The session, delayed by an impromptu effort to overcome Turkish objections to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as new secretary general, began with a minute’s silence.
It was held in the presence of 28 military officers from NATO’s member nations, representing troops fighting or working in countries stretching from Afghanistan to the Balkans and seas off the Horn of Africa.
“You are here to represent both your nations and your colleagues so that we can express to you, and through you to them, our most profound gratitude,” NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop said.
After a symbolic meeting on a suspension footbridge over the Rhine River, the leaders had headed from Germany into Strasbourg, northern France for the second and final session of the 60th anniversary summit.
The talks saw the leaders of Albania and Croatia take their places at NATO’s table, after sealing their membership in the world’s biggest military alliance this week.
“You are very welcome in our midst,” Scheffer told them.
“Welcome to NATO, we are excited about your participation,” US President Barack Obama said adding: “It is a measure of our vitality that we are still welcoming new members.”
Saturday’s session was to be dominated by Afghanistan, where NATO is undertaking its biggest and most ambitious mission ever.
But efforts are being undermined by a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency, with the protracted fight diminishing support at home and among ordinary Afghans, as civilian casualties mount.
The leaders are expected to announce that four battalions — from 3,000 to 4,000 troops — have been found to help secure the elections, seen as a litmus test of NATO’s efforts to help spread democracy.
They are also likely to agree on a new training mission for Afghan security forces, backed by commitments from some nations for a French plan to send gendarme-like paramilitary police.