The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

March 20, 2014

Will Afghanistan security take backseat to Europe?

WASHINGTON (AP) — With Russia pushing new hostilities to Europe's doorstep, U.S. and NATO officials are trying to gauge whether already dwindling resources and attention will be diverted from what, until now, has been a top security priority: Afghanistan.

NATO, the international military alliance, is intent on continuing its 12-year mission in Afghanistan and has urged the government in Kabul to sign a security agreement allowing foreign troops to stay and train local forces beyond a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline.

But with NATO states in Eastern Europe openly worried over Russian aggression, especially after Moscow this week annexed the strategic Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, the alliance may have little choice but to bolster its own borders at some cost of keeping a robust and diverse military presence a continent away.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted Wednesday that Russia's aggressions would not distract the military alliance from Afghanistan.

"We have the capacity to deal with several missions and operations at one and the same time," Rasmussen said under questioning at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. "And ongoing events will not have any impact on our engagement in Afghanistan."

Other experts said it is inevitable that some European nations — particularly those within Russia's reach — refocus on securing their home fronts.

"Because the Europeans are more concerned about Russia as a threat, they will be less inclined to divert very precious resources to overseas-type missions, of which Afghanistan is clearly one," retired Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander and top U.S. commander in Europe, said in an interview this week.

"In resources for these smaller nations, they'll want to put more attention and more focus on the very defensive level of effort," said Stavridis, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

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