NOORDWIJK, Netherlands The Dutch defense minister opened two days of NATO talks Wednesday with a pointed call for other European countries to shoulder their fair share of the fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
"There is no such thing as a free ride to peace and security," Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop said in a barely veiled dig at nations that have refused to send troops to Afghanistan's dangerous south.
Most of the forces in Afghanistan's front-line southern provinces come from the United States, the Netherlands, Britain and Canada.
All four nations have long complained that allies such as Germany, Italy, France and Spain have refused to commit significant forces to the south and east, the scene of most of the fighting against the Taliban.
"It is not about what we are willing to say for a safer and more just world," van Middelkoop said. "It ultimately depends on what we are willing to do. Fair risk and burden sharing will remain the leading principle for this alliance."
Also dominating the conference was the conflict between NATO member Turkey and Kurdish separatist rebels who have been striking Turkish forces from bases across the border in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Turkish warplanes and helicopter gunships bombed rebel positions along the border with Iraq on Wednesday, but NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Turkey was showing "remarkable restraint" in response to attacks by the Kurdish rebels.
De Hoop Scheffer said the 26 NATO allies expressed solidarity with Turkey but also urged moderation in Turkey's response.
In Afghanistan, the Dutch parliament may not extend the nation's mission beyond August, the government has warned, unless the Dutch get more backup for its 1,600 troops in the southern province of Uruzgan.
A Dutch pullout could influence Canada, which must decide by 2009 whether to extend the mandate of their 1,700 troops in the south.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained this week that some European nations were not fulfilling their commitments to NATO's 41,000-member force. And British and Canadian officials said their ministers would make similar statements over the next two days.
De Hoop Scheffer told reporters he would float the idea of setting a rotation system under which allies would agree to take turns in front-line positions. But he acknowledged "this is not a plan for the immediate future, this is talking about the longer run."
Germany and France indicated before the meeting that they are planning to increase their contributions to training the Afghan army, but not fighting alongside it.
"We want to triple our efforts for training the army," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters before the meeting. Germany has 60 army instructors among its contingent of 3,100 troops serving mostly in the relatively stable north.
France, which has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, said it would send a team of around 50 instructors, who may serve with Afghan units in the south.
Slovakia said last week it would double its contribution to 111 troops, some of whom were expected to serve alongside the Dutch. The Czech Republic also said it would increase its contingent from 225 to 415. Georgia which is not in NATO is reportedly considering sending 200 troops to help the Dutch.
Van Middelkoop said it was time for some original thinking to emerge from the talks in this blustery North Sea resort.
"The sea breeze may blow away some of our old ideas and may bring in some new, fresh ones, and I think we need that," he told his colleagues.
NATO generals are seeking to more than double the roughly 20 training units currently serving with Afghan forces. Allied commanders see that as key to preparing local forces to gradually takeover from international troops although allied commanders believe it will be five to 10 years before Afghan troops can operate independently without U.S. and NATO support.
For the first time, officials from the United Nations, European Union and World Bank are joining NATO defense ministers at the talks as part of the alliance's drive to coordinate the Afghan security mission with civilian reconstruction and good governance efforts.
Allied officials also hope the talks will lead to commitments of more helicopters, transport planes and quick maneuver troops to fill shortfalls in the Afghan force.
One new idea is a plan to lease transport helicopters from private contractors, possibly in Ukraine or Russia, for use in Afghanistan. To allay safety fears, diplomats say the leased aircraft would be used only to carry equipment and supplies, freeing up NATO's military helicopters to transport troops.