MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Pentagon and its NATO allies aren't seeing eye-to-eye. The dispute is over the number of Western troops in Afghanistan, and it's provoked some sharp exchanges in recent weeks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed off criticism of NATO for not sending more troops, but tensions remain. And NPR has learned that the U.S. is itself falling short on the number of trainers it's pledged for Afghanistan.

NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN: Afghanistan needs more of its own soldiers and police. Training them has become a major job for the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it's a struggle to find trainers.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (United States Defense Department): I think that the principal shortfall, continuing shortfall, will be in having as many trainers as we would like for the security forces, but we have responded.

BOWMAN: Responded somewhat. Here are the numbers. The United States calculated that to help build the Afghan army, it would need more than 1600 American military personnel. So far, it has come up with less than half that number. For the Afghan police, the United States has sent 860 trainers. That's one-third of what it promised to field. Now, the Pentagon last week announced it will deploy 1,000 Marine trainers to Afghanistan this spring to help fill that gap. But even with those added Marines, the Afghan training effort will still be hundreds of trainers short.

Brigadier General ANDREW TWOMEY (U.S. Army): We are short, particularly in the police training. Based on the situation, we have moved people from army requirements to police requirements.

BOWMAN: Brig. Gen. Andrew Twomey oversees the training effort for Afghan soldiers and police. He says the lack of police trainers means a yearlong delay. Now, it won't be until sometime in 2009 before the full 82,000-member Afghan police force is trained. The general says it's critical to build a strong Afghan security force.

Brig. Gen. TWOMEY: I think they are essential to the long-term U.S. interests and the long-term stability in the region.

BOWMAN: The Americans are having trouble meeting their commitments in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, told lawmakers recently it's because of Iraq.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity. In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.

BOWMAN: That wasn't good enough for Congressman Joe Sestak. He's a Pennsylvania Democrat and a recently retired admiral. The congressman reached into another wartime era to sound the alarm.

Representative JOE SESTAK (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I would think that the better approach might be what Winston Churchill said, sometimes it's not enough to do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required.

BOWMAN: Sestak worries about a growing Taliban threat, a view shared by retired officers and defense analysts. Besides trainers, they say, more U.S., NATO and Afghan combat troops are needed. Taliban attacks have increased over the past year.

But the top NATO commander in Afghanistan dismisses those concerns.

General DAN McNEILL (Commander, International Security Assistance Force, NATO): I don't see the insurgents as a resurgent force as some people give them credit to be.

BOWMAN: General Dan McNeill, speaking from his headquarters in Kabul, says the reason for increased attacks is this - American and NATO troops are taking the fight to the Taliban.

Gen. MCNEILL: We're pushing our noses into some areas where the force has not been in Afghanistan before. And McNeill says he will soon be getting more help. Besides those 1,000 Marine trainers, another 2,000 U.S. Marines will deploy for combat duty this spring, pushing their noses into the Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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