By Arshad Mohammed Fri Nov 10, 12:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pushing NATO to shoulder
more global burdens but the alliance's Afghan deployment illustrates the challenges of getting the 26-nation group to project its power beyond its borders.

Ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's November 28-29 summit in Riga, U.S. officials are making the case that Afghanistan is a model for the Western alliance to take on more security challenges around the world.

But analysts argue, and U.S. officials acknowledge, that NATO has had trouble getting some members to send troops to the south of Afghanistan, where British, Dutch and Canadian forces are fighting a revived Taliban insurgency.

NATO's top commander called on September 7 for 2,000 to 2,500 more troops to go to Afghanistan. Most members of the alliance -- which has about 32,500 troops in the country, including about 11,800 U.S. forces -- have not jumped to fill the gap, although Poland has committed to provide about 1,000 soldiers.

"Only a handful of NATO members are prepared to go to the south and east and to go robustly -- mainly the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Romania, Australia and Denmark," the International Crisis Group said in a report issued this month.

"Hard questions need to be asked of those such as Germany, Spain, France, Turkey and Italy who are not," it added.

"Obviously, there is some concern in capitals that there is, in fact, a shooting war going on," said a U.S. official who asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the issue.

There is a feeling of "whoa -- you guys are in an insurgency -- is that what we signed up for?" he added.

More than 3,100 people, about a third of them civilians, have died in the fighting this year, the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban's strict Islamist government in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried argued the alliance should honor its commitment to Afghanistan both to help the Afghan people and to protect its members' interests.

Fried painted a nightmare scenario if the Taliban, which harbored al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks, went unchecked.

"Suppose the Taliban had remained in Afghanistan and not attacked the United States on September 11 but strengthened their base, spread into Pakistan, spread into Central Asia ... and then attacked. How much greater would the problem have been? How much more horrible the result?" he told Reuters.

"The downside risk is real," he said.

The Afghan deployment is part of a larger debate over how to adapt NATO -- whose original mission was protecting its members from Soviet attack -- to confront global threats.

"It's a challenge for NATO ... I concentrate on what NATO has achieved but my job is to push for more," Fried said.

"The Bush administration is not very well positioned to make this plea because .... it has walked into a huge debacle in Iraq that is an object lesson in what could go wrong," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute.

"The Europeans watched what happened to the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and, given how remote and backward Afghanistan is, they must be wondering whether there is any chance over the long run of changing the culture of the place," he added.

Rand Corporation analyst Seth Jones said it typically takes 14 years to defeat an insurgency and questioned whether many NATO members would have the patience for such a deployment.

"I just have doubts that over the long run either the Dutch or the Canadians are going to be willing to stick this out over let's say a decade," he said, saying the effort may turn out to be "NATO in name, but a coalition of the willing in the end."

Fried said NATO's lengthy deployments in Kosovo and Bosnia showed its stamina. "I will accept that analysis of it taking a while. I have not heard anybody debate that we ought to be pulling out. The debate is how best to succeed," he said.

But another U.S. official said there is already some worry among NATO members about whether they are getting sunk in an Afghan quagmire, even though he disagreed with that view.

"We already hear it on the margins. Some senior leaders in some countries are already saying, 'no you can't do it, you can't win this, this is history repeating itself,"' he said.