EDINBURGH - Shifting tactics, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that the Bush administration has decided to tone down its appeals to NATO allies for more troops and other aid in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
After two days of talks with his counterparts from Britain, Canada, and five other NATO countries whose troops are doing the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan's violent south, Gates said he would continue making the case for greater allied military assistance.
But he said he would be doing it differently, keeping in mind the "political realities" faced by some European governments whose people may see less reason to intervene in Afghanistan.
"We're going to try to look at this more creatively than perhaps we have done in the past, when we basically have just been hammering on [allied governments] to provide more," Gates said in a post-meeting interview with a small group of reporters traveling with him from Washington.
He said there would be "brainstorming" for ideas on how to enable some NATO allies to contribute more. He cited the possibility that an ally that has helicopters but insufficient resources to outfit them for the harsh environment of Afghanistan might get the money from another NATO country to upgrade the aircraft.
Gates has been pressing for months - without success so far - to get 16 more helicopters into southern Afghanistan to relieve a US helicopter unit that will be leaving soon.
Gates also has pressed to fill other needs, including 3,500 NATO trainers for the Afghan police as well as a minimum of three battalions of ground troops. He said those gaps were discussed in Edinburgh but the countries represented at the talks were not asked to contribute more, because they already are bearing the brunt of the military load, along with the United States.
He noted that the Dutch defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, told the meeting that his government has recommended to parliament that Dutch troops extend their service in Afghanistan another two years.
Britain has the largest foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan, other than the United States, with about 7,800. There are about 26,000 US troops there.
Asked whether the Bush administration was considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the event that the shortfalls are not bridged by NATO allies, Gates said, "Not in the short term."