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US warns NATO it won't be able to fill defence gaps
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Oct 5, 2011

Third of post-9/11 US vets think wars not 'worth it': poll
Washington (AFP) Oct 5, 2011 - A third of Americans who served in the military following the September 11 attacks do not believe the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were worth fighting, a poll found Wednesday.

The Pew Research Poll found that 33 percent of post-9/11 US veterans said the two wars were not "worth it," given the costs and benefits to the United States, with a slightly larger percentage of 34 percent saying they were.

When the wars were taken individually, 50 percent said the Afghanistan war was worth fighting and 44 percent said the Iraq war was worth it.

In all cases, support for the wars was higher among the veterans than among the general US public, the Washington-based research center said.

The veterans, most of whom described themselves as more patriotic than other Americans, exhibited growing isolationism, with around 60 percent saying the United States should focus more on domestic problems than international ones.

Fifty-one percent of post-9/11 veterans said "over-reliance on military force creates hatred that breeds terrorism," while just four in 10 said "overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism," the poll found.

The research center cited a poll it had carried out in early 2011 that found that the general public divides in much the same way on the question.

The surveys were carried out from July 28 to September 15, and included 712 military veterans who had served after the September 11, 2001 attacks and 2,003 respondents from the general public.

The US military faces serious budget cuts and will be unable to make up any shortfalls in the NATO alliance as European members slash defence spending, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta warned Wednesday.

Fiscal pressures are bearing down on both sides of the Atlantic and NATO allies will need to work closely together to pool funds, instead of counting on America's much larger defence spending to close the gap, Panetta said.

"As for the United States, many might assume that the US defence budget is so large it can absorb the shocks and cover alliance shortcomings -- but make no mistake, we are facing dramatic cuts with real implications for alliance capability," the US defence secretary said in a speech in Brussels.

Although US defence spending far exceeds European budgets, Panetta said American military leaders were facing $450 billion in cuts over 10 years, which he called "tough but manageable," according to a prepared text of the speech.

But if the US Congress fails to tackle the country's deficit this year, the Pentagon "could face additional cuts in defence that would be devastating to our national security and to yours as well," he said.

Panetta delivered his warning ahead of talks with NATO counterparts in Brussels, centred on the missions in Libya and Afghanistan as well as the shortcomings the alliance has witnessed in carrying out the operations.

The cuts contemplated by the Pentagon would reduce the size of the force and curtail some weapons programmes, but the gargantuan US defence budget -- at nearly $700 billion -- still dwarfs that of the 27 other NATO members combined.

US officials have long urged European allies to shoulder more of the burden of the alliance. But Panetta stressed that a new era of austerity would require member states to coordinate budget cuts to minimize the impact on NATO's military might.

"We cannot afford for countries to make decisions about force reductions in a vacuum, leaving neighbors and allies in the dark," Panetta said at an event organised by the think tank Carnegie Europe.

"Security in the 21st century will not be achieved by each nation marching to its own drummer," he said in his first speech in Europe since taking over as defence secretary in July.

Panetta struck a gentler tone than his predecessor, Robert Gates, who delivered a harsh rebuke to the alliance in June before his retirement.

While Gates painted a bleak picture of an alliance on the verge of "irrelevance" after failing to invest in defence, Panetta praised NATO for its "extraordinary" performances in Libya and Afghanistan.

"With the fall of the Kadhafi regime, our nations saw an example of why NATO matters, and remains indispensable to confronting the security challenges of today," Panetta said.

In the Libya air war, NATO proved it could make move swiftly, effectively and with Europeans -- instead of Americans -- playing the lead role in a major operation, he said.

"The alliance achieved more burden-sharing between the US and Europe than we have in the past, particularly for an operation conducted off of Europe's shores," he said.

Echoing US and European officials, Panetta said the Libyan and Afghan conflicts exposed worrisome gaps in alliance capabilities, including a shortage of drones, refuelling tanker aircraft, helicopters, munitions and targeting specialists.

As an example of how the alliance needs to share resources, Panetta cited a proposal for 13 countries to invest in several unmanned surveillance aircraft, calling it a "true bargain for NATO."

But he said the programme to build Global Hawks was stalled due to disagreements about funding, and argued the intiative offered a test of the alliance to chart a new path with limited funds.

Panetta said he believed the alliance would endure despite the financial squeeze.

"It has been a tough decade of war, but our alliance has emerged stronger. Just as we met the challenges of the Cold War and 9/11, I am confident we can confront the challenges that await us in the next decade."

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NATO allies hold talks on Libyan, Afghan wars
Brussels (AFP) Oct 5, 2011 - NATO allies begin two days of talks Wednesday on the lessons drawn from six months of bombings in Libya and their goal of withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan within three years.

While the air war continues in Libya, defence ministers will debate acute shortcomings they witnessed while carrying out the operation over the past six months.

Although alliance official say the campaign is nearly over, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that "fighting has to end" on the ground before the air strikes can be called off.

Forces loyal to ousted leader Moamer Kadhafi are resisting the new regime's fighters in Sirte, east of Tripoli, and Bani Walid southeast of the capital.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the mission as "a great success" but acknowledged that it exposed Europe's need to invest in unmanned drones, intelligence assets and air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

Rasmussen is pushing allies to avoid drastic reductions in their military capabilities by pooling and sharing assets at a time of austerity across the 28-nation alliance.

With one conflict nearing an end, the ministers will also take stock of the unpopular war in Afghanistan, which marks 10 years on Friday amid plans for NATO to hand Afghan forces full control of security across the country by 2014.

The Taliban insurgency, showing they remain a force to be reckoned with, assaulted NATO headquarters and the US embassy in Kabul last month.

Hopes for a negotiated peace were dealt a heavy blow when peace broker Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president, was assassinated in September by a turban bomber who was believed to be a Taliban envoy.

Another hotspot, Kosovo, will figure high on the agenda at the NATO talks after alliance peacekeepers clashed last week with protesters from the Serb community who put up roadblocks at a disputed border crossing.


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