Defense ministers from NATO's 26 member states met Thursday in Brussels to discuss the imminent expansion of NATO's peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and the readiness of the NATO Response Force.
Afghanistan will be the focus of this gathering with a meeting scheduled between Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and his counterparts from 37 countries which have contributed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
This is the first time such a meeting is taking place.
"NATO is preparing for a major expansion of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. No one should doubt NATO's commitment to this mission, nor our capability to carry it out, together with the rest of the international community and the Afghan government, " said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in his opening speech on Thursday.
The expansion of ISAF, scheduled for late July, will see NATO forces in the volatile south of the Asian country. The number of troops is expected to increase from 9,000 to 16,000.
NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning John Colston told reporters on Tuesday that NATO has no plans to review the current military planning of the expansion.
"Defense ministers are confident they have the right plan, the right forces properly equipped and the right rules of engagement to undertake the job.
"It comes as no great surprise that NATO forces will be challenged in the south. We are creating the conditions for stability there and a number of people don't want that."
ISAF, which was initially deployed in the Afghan capital Kabul, was later expanded to the west and north of the country, two relatively calm areas.
Britain, Canada and the Netherlands will lead the expansion into the south, each country taking up a province. The expansion takes place against a background of a revitalization of insurgency in the south by the Taliban, whose regime was overthrown in 2001.
The NATO ministers will also discuss NATO's operations in Kosovo, its training mission in Iraq and its assistance to the African Union in its peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region.
The one-day meeting is also seen as a "building block" for the November NATO summit in Riga, Latvia.
The defense ministers will discuss, among other issues, the readiness of the NATO Response Force (NRF), which is due to be fully operational in October this year.
The force is designed for deployment at very short notice anywhere in the world for all sorts of operations.
Colston said the ministers will discuss ways to meet the costs of the force, which will number up to 25,000 troops. The current cost-sharing scheme is thought to be discouraging member countries to contribute troops to the NRF.
But Colston said no decision would be made on Thursday.
A major exercise of the NRF will be held in Cape Verde from June 15 to 28 to test the readiness of the force.
The ministers will also review Ukraine's progress in its military reform. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk expressed the hope in April that his country could get invitations to join NATO by 2008. But NATO officials have repeatedly said accession of any countries would be performance-based.
A meeting between NATO defense ministers and their counterparts from Partnership for Peace countries are also scheduled for the afternoon.