NEWS

No Greek choppers in Afghanistan

Greece yesterday turned down a request from NATO to contribute attack helicopters to the alliance’s contingent in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Costas Simitis citing the cost of staging next year’s Olympics as one of the reasons for the rejection. Simitis met with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, who is on a farewell tour as the alliance’s chief and is also trying to gather troops and materiel to help NATO deploy forces beyond the Afghan capital of Kabul. «Lord Robertson told us that it would be very useful, indeed necessary, for Greece to contribute air force helicopters,» Simitis told a joint news conference. «Unfortunately, we cannot respond to this request right now because of the increased financial needs stemming from the Olympic Games and because of the need for us to have our forces in our country during 2004. But the central issue is the financial one. I would like to note, though, that there are already Greek forces in Afghanistan (soldiers, transportation and a C130 military transport aircraft).» Robertson expressed disappointment but said he understood Greece’s problem. «Yes, of course I am disappointed by the refusal, but NATO has 19 partners and I am knocking on many doors so that I will be able to cover my needs in Afghanistan,» he said. Robertson noted that Greece had already contributed 122 soldiers to the contingent of 5,700 in Kabul. He added that he had no doubt that as NATO expands its plans and operations beyond Kabul under the new UN mandate, Greece will provide further forces. In their talks, Simitis also set out Greece’s thoughts on the relationship between the EU’s nascent defense and NATO. «We in Greece believe that Europe must exploit its own defense in cooperation with NATO wherever necessary, and this is necessary in very many cases,» he told reporters. Speaking of NATO’s work in fighting terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America, Robertson said NATO naval forces had carried out 35,000 ship inspections in the Mediterranean.