Biden seeks NATO input on Afghan strategy

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden sought the help of NATO allies Tuesday in drawing up a strategy for what he called the "deteriorating" situation in Afghanistan.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden sought the help of NATO allies Tuesday in drawing up a strategy for what he called the "deteriorating" situation in Afghanistan.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, centre, is introduced to NATO ambassadors by Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, right, during a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. ((Virginia Mayo/Associated Press))

Speaking in Brussels to representatives of member countries in the 26-nation alliance, Biden warned that "al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are regenerating" in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and planning possible new attacks on the West.

"The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat not just to the United States but to every single nation round this table," he said.

"It was from the very same mountains that the attacks of 9/11 were planned."

Biden stressed the U.S. will seek to work more closely with its allies as it tries to combat militancy in Afghanistan.

"[U.S. officials] will generally consult with the allies at the NATO table, which they see as an important institution," said the CBC's David Common, reporting from London. "As the United States comes forward with a new strategy it wants to hear from its NATO friends about what they think ought to happen."

U.S. President Barack Obama is reviewing how NATO's mission in Afghanistan can turn the tide in the volatile south of the country, which has seen a steady rise in fighting and losses for U.S. and allied countries.

Canada has 2,830 soldiers operating in the southern province of Kandahar. Four Canadians have been killed this month, for a total of 112 since Canada's combat mission there began in 2002.

The Obama administration has already ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to the country to bolster the 38,000 already there as a way to turn the tide.

"Joe Biden will take any comments from this meeting today back to Washington and very quickly it will be turned into a strategy which will affect all countries who are serving in Afghanistan, including Canada," Common reported.

That new strategy could be unveiled before NATO leaders meet at an annual summit that begins April 3.

MacKay for secretary general?

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, seen in Halifax last week, reportedly has the endorsement of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden for NATO's next secretary general. ((Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press))

Also on the agenda at Tuesday's meeting is discussion of who will take over the post of NATO secretary general after Jaap De Hoop Scheffer finishes his term in the summer.

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay has been mentioned as possible successor, although he would be considered a long shot for the position, which traditionally goes to a European.

MacKay, who has played down talk of his candidacy, nevertheless said Monday that the decision shouldn't be bound by geography.

"I don't believe that a person's nationality, given the number of NATO countries there, should ever be a bar to ascendancy to any role in NATO," Mackay told reporters.

Common reported — as did a number of media outlets — that MacKay has the backing of Biden for the job, an endorsement that would provide a major boost for the Canadian's chances. Biden said Tuesday that the United States has not made a choice, but said no country's representatives should be ruled out — a tacit nod to MacKay, given that secretary generals have always been European.

"In many ways I think this is still an extreme long shot given that MacKay is a Canadian, but weird things do happen with this particular choice," said Common.

"It's never gone to the top candidate before."

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is said to be the current front-runner for the post. The new secretary general will likely be named in early April, ahead of the NATO summit.

With files from the Associated Press