US to allies: 'too much talk about leaving Afghanistan'

US-led forces have "dealt a heavy blow to the Taliban insurgency" in the past year and pushed the insurgents "out of vital areas in the south and east," Gates said at a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

But he said hard-won gains against the insurgency could unravel if countries begin pulling out large numbers of troops too quickly for what he called political reasons.

Gates, in Brussels after touring Afghanistan this week, did not say which countries were weighing a troop drawdown but he referred to "rhetoric" in some European capitals that he said called into question the resolve displayed at a NATO summit in Lisbon in November.

"Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right. Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about the fight.

"Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy, and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave," he said according to text of his speech released in advance.

Washington's plans to start withdrawing some of its troops in July -- at the same time Afghan forces begin to take over security in some areas -- has prompted calls in some other coalition countries for scaling back troop levels.

Although acknowledging the "intense pressure" that countries faced to scale back their commitments, Gates said it was crucial to ensure a "deliberate, organised and coordinated" handover to Afghan forces.

Out of the roughly 140,000 troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, 97,000 are American, with the war costing the United States USD 10 billion a month.

"America is willing to shoulder the lion's share of the burden, but we cannot do it alone," he was to say.

He acknowledged that the more than 40 countries in the coalition fighting the Taliban had suffered higher casualties in 2010 than in any other year since the war began in 2001.

"These are the tragic costs of success, but we bear them because it is in our shared security interests to do so.

"And in order to ensure that these sacrifices are not squandered, we need to keep our focus on succeeding in our missions, and not get pulled away prematurely," he said.

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