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Gates, in shift, to tone down calls for NATO's help

He talked of "brainstorming" for ideas to enable nations to contribute more to the Afghan fight.

EDINBURGH, Scotland - Shifting tactics, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that the Bush administration had decided to tone down its appeals to NATO allies for more troops and for 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 will 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 told 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, as an example, 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 - to get 16 more helicopters into southern Afghanistan to relieve a U.S. helicopter unit that will be leaving soon. He is also seeking 3,500 NATO trainers for the Afghan police, as well as a minimum of three battalions of ground troops.

The United States has about 26,000 troops in Afghanistan, followed by Britain with 7,800.

Asked whether the Bush administration was considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, in case shortfalls are not bridged by NATO allies, Gates replied: "Not in the short term."

Gates said the Edinburgh talks produced a consensus on preparing an "integrated plan" for goals in Afghanistan within the next three to five years, as well as specifics on how to reach them. He said the United States would take the lead in developing this plan, which he hoped would be ready for endorsement by President Bush and leaders of the other NATO governments at a summit set for early April in Romania.

"My purpose in proposing this in the first place was to get people to look beyond the end of 2008, and to try to lift their sights and recognize that this is a longer-term endeavor," he said.

Asked whether he foresaw the U.S. military in Afghanistan in five years, Gates said he expected it would extend beyond that, but in smaller numbers than today.

Gates also spoke of an effort by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to split some Taliban leaders off and reconcile them with the central government. He said this was not a U.S. military effort but suggested at least a U.S. advisory role.