RIGA, Latvia (CP) - The war in Afghanistan will be the main topic of conversation Tuesday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a two-day summit in Riga, Latvia.
Speaking to a forum before the NATO summit, de Hoop Scheffer insisted the alliance will prevail in its first mission outside Europe. He also expressed hopes that by 2008, Afghan forces could begin taking over security tasks.
"I would hope that by 2008, we'll have made considerable progress . . . (with) effective and trusted Afghan security forces gradually taking control," he said.
The dangers to the NATO force were underscored by recent attacks that have shattered a period of relative calm. Two Canadian soldiers were killed Monday in a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Kandahar City.
A day earlier, a suicide bomber killed 15 Afghans in a restaurant.
De Hoop Scheffer is not expected to report much progress in convincing European members of the Alliance to send additional troops to Afghanistan - or more importantly removing restrictions on those already operating there.
Germany, Italy, Spain and Norway are unlikely to budge, despite pressure from Canada, the United States, the Netherlands and Britain, diplomatic sources told the Canadian Press.
"Other NATO nations have troops there, but have imposed caveats on the use of them and on the use of their equipment - this at a time when NATO's commanders on the ground urgently require additional manpower," said Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
"NATO cannot afford to lose this crucial struggle against the regressive forces of a resurgent insurgency by being indecisive or lacking commitment," she said.
France is preparing to assume an expanded role in the Afghan mission, and officials said President Jacques Chirac would propose forming a contact group on Afghanistan to ensure that a global strategy guides NATO action in the country.
"The Europeans have relied on their American allies for too long. They have to shoulder their share of the burden," Chirac said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair planned to remind leaders that NATO has a significant role to play in rebuilding the country.
"His message essentially will be, first of all, that Afghanistan wants to know that NATO is there for the long haul," Blair's official spokesman said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Italy was expected to announce the lifting of restrictions in extreme circumstances.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said in the past that while her country's units will remain based in the north, they could be sent for short-term, emergency missions elsewhere in the country.
Harper, who arrived at the summit Tuesday morning, will also meet with Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski.
Poland has committed roughly 900 extra combat troops for use in the volatile southern region, where heavy fighting ha claimed the lives of 44 Canadian soldiers.
Denmark is expected to announce it will send an additional communications support team to Kabul, but the contribution is a drop in the bucket compared with the 2,500 combat troops NATO commanders have requested.