After months of lobbying, NATO countries have still not agreed how many extra troops they will send to Afghanistan to boost local forces in their fight against the resurgent Taliban.
NATO's pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan still falls short of commitments, US commanders said on Thursday, concerned that fewer reinforcements could threaten the already precarious security situation in the country.
At a meeting of NATO defence ministers, commanders said that nearly three months after President Donald Trump announced his "South Asia strategy," NATO has not met the number of troops as was expected.
"We have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets that we have identified," said General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan and head of the NATO training mission.
US to provide 2,800 more troops
Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months. According to US estimates, about 43 percent of Afghanistan's districts are either under Taliban control or being contested.
General Nicholson said while contractors could potentially be used to fill the gaps, ideally it should be filled by NATO members.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that NATO allies and the United States would split the burden of providing some 3,000 more troops, an increase that would take NATO's training mission to about 16,000 troops.
Two diplomats said that at this stage, the US is likely to provide 2,800 troops, while non-US NATO allies and partners will send an additional 700 troops, potentially making up a 3,500-strong personnel increase.
Problem of high risk, low capability
Before the ministers' meeting, US officials said about 80 percent of the troop commitments had been met by the allies.
"Coming out of today, it won't be at 100 percent," said US Army Geneneral Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's top military officer. "We're still in discussion with more than a few nations that are looking at an increase above the initial one given at the force generation conference. So, I'm encouraged."
The gap, said Nicholson, has contributed to the lowest level of capabilities and the "highest level of risk we faced" in the 16-year war.
Nicholson and Scaparrotti declined to provide details on the numbers, but other NATO officials confirmed that coming out of the meeting Thursday there would be a shortfall approaching 10 percent. The officials weren't authorised to discuss the numbers publicly, so they spoke on condition of anonymity.
European NATO remains disinterested
Germany, one of the main European troop contributors, said at this point it was not increasing its contribution for next year with German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen strongly defending the decision.
"The commitments received so far are sufficient. We will not reach the total troop level, but to a high degree," Von der Leyen told reporters.
Europe's NATO focus has partly shifted to deterring Russia in Poland, the Baltics and the Black Sea, diplomats said after Moscow's seizure of Crimea in 2014 helped take East-West ties to post-Cold War lows.
Nicholson said he was concerned that the United States would again be put in a position where it would have to fill the shortfall.
Mattis looks to curb Russia's arms control violation
Speaking with reporters during a meeting of NATO defence ministers, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Thursday that he discussed Russia's violation of an arms control treaty with his NATO counterparts, and they were looking at how to bring Moscow into compliance with it.
"We have a firm belief now over several years that the Russians have violated the INF and our effort is to bring Russia back into compliance," Mattis said.
He added that the US and NATO would be engaging with Russia to try and resolve the issue.
US officials have said Russia deployed a cruise missile despite complaints by Washington that it violates the arms control treaty banning ground-based US and Russian intermediate-range missiles.
Russia however, has said in the past that it appears that Washington, now in the midst of a $1 trillion, 30-year modernization of its ageing ballistic missile submarines, bombers and land-based missiles, was in breach of the same treaty.