ON BOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb 18, 2009 (AFP) - The administration of President Barack Obama will expect NATO allies to up troop levels in Afghanistan ahead of elections there in August, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Wednesday.
"The administration is prepared ... to make additional commitments to Afghanistan, but there clearly will be expectations that the allies must do more as well," said the Pentagon's top official.
Gates was speaking on board an aircraft shuttling him to a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow, Poland, which begins Thursday.
He said the US would especially press allies to supply troops, even for short term deployments in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for August 20.
"Will continue to ask the allies to provide even a short term plus up in the forces to provide with security in the pre-election period.
"There is a requirement out there in terms of the desire to have people sign up for additional troops during that period and frankly the response so far has been disappointing," he added.
His comments come after Obama authorized the deployment of 17,000 additional troops for the Afghan theater by the middle of this year.
There are currently around 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 38,000 US troops.
Gates refused to say whether Washington was ready to send even more troops if deployment levels do not meet the demands of General David McKiernan.
The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has requested another brigade to focus on the training of Afghan security forces.
"Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you, 2009 is going to be a tough year," McKiernan told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Gates also accused Russia of doublespeak when it comes to Afghanistan.
"I think that the Russians are trying to have it both ways with respect to Afghanistan," he said citing Russian involvement in a decision by Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas military base there - an important logistics center for the Afghan mission.
"On one hand, you're making positive noises about working with us in Afghanistan, on the other hand you're working against us in terms of that air field, which is clearly important to us," he said of Russia.
"We need to work this relation through in a constructive way."