NATO to study use of proposed rapid-reaction force

Afghanistan security duty may extend beyond Kabul


WASHINGTON - NATO's defense ministers and military chiefs will begin arriving today in Colorado Springs, Colo., ahead of an unusual secret exercise to study how the alliance's proposed rapid-reaction force might be deployed in a crisis.

Among other issues to be discussed during the two-day meeting is a plan to extend the jurisdiction of NATO's international security force in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, the capital. In talks on the Balkans, the ministers are likely to ask whether the situation allows the alliance to further reduce its forces there.

A senior Defense Department official said the meeting would be the first time that NATO's top military and civilian defense officials would join in a rapid- reaction force exercise, which the Pentagon was describing as a "study seminar" and not a war game.

U.S. officials declined to give details in advance, fearing that doing so might skew the outcome. But one senior Pentagon official said the goal was to "illuminate some of the issues that will arise from the creation" of the NATO Response Force.

"In the modern world, crises can emerge quickly," the official said. "They can be very dynamic. The initial problem can change rather rapidly. This is an opportunity for ministers to kind of think through some of the implications of that security environment for the way NATO does its business."

The force is scheduled to go into service next summer and be fully operational in 2006. Plans call for the alliance to be able to deploy a brigade - usually a military unit of about 5,000 members - within five to 30 days, the official said.

But to sustain that level of readiness around the clock, along with the required air and naval complement, could require a commitment of 15,000 to 20,000 members of NATO military services.

The force would be the alliance's first standing military contingent, able to rush to a crisis within Europe or beyond.

The United States will be represented at the session by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Also included, in addition to NATO's 19 members, will be the seven nations invited to join NATO next spring: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Russia's defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, will attend NATO meetings on Thursday and also will meet with Rumsfeld, but he will not be joining the study seminar, Pentagon officials said.

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