NATO’s Afghan helicopter plan falling short

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO states have failed to provide enough money for an initiative to send dozens more badly needed helicopters to assist the alliance’s Afghan operation, officials said Friday.

Britain and France launched a fund to allow for upgrading of existing helicopters belonging to NATO states to make them suitable for tough flying conditions in Afghanistan.

It had been hoped the fund would allow for the sending of 30 or 40 additional helicopters to Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told a news briefing after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest.

“We have not got enough commitments to support this initiative, so we are still suffering from insufficient helicopters in theater where we need them,” he said.

“We might only get another handful which is not really the critical mass we need.”

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he was “disappointed.”

“There are thousands of helicopters in the NATO fleet and allies should definitely not be having this type of trouble getting a few hundred to theater to support our operations,” he told a news conference.

“The bottom line is we need political will,” he said, adding that one of the reasons helicopters were needed was to speed medical evacuation times for wounded NATO soldiers.

De Hoop Scheffer Thursday said NATO states needed to do better in helping to boost troops numbers in Afghanistan necessary to deal with a worsening Taliban insurgency.

Commanders of the 50,700-strong NATO force are seeking up to 12,000 more troops, but some European member states have been reluctant to commit additional numbers.

The United States plans to increase its troop numbers from 33,000 now, which include 13,000 under NATO, but U.S. officials worry allies will see this as an excuse not to meet pledges.

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