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NATO requests more troops in Afghanistan

Latest update : 2008-02-08

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop called for more troop to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan at a meeting of defence ministers. But none of the members present promised more troops. (Story: B. Harris).

The NATO chief on Friday called on Afghanistan to improve its government and boost support for its security forces to step up the fight against the Taliban.


Speaking at a NATO defence ministers meeting dominated by the conflict in Afghanistan, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned that "governance must visibly improve."


The ministers set aside a dispute over foreign troop levels in the country to discuss international aid for Afghanistan with representatives of the United Nations, European Union, World Bank and Afghanistan's Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.


"Governance must visibly improve, so that the Afghan people have trust in their leaders," the NATO chief told the meeting.


"The police need robust support to develop and they need it now. The narco-economy must be replaced by a legal, sustainable economy. And the Afghan army must get more support from NATO nations and from partners, to stand on its own feet and defend its own country," he added.


Scheffer said "NATO will play its part -- but NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) are only part of the answer."


"Our goal today will be to see how all the countries and organisations represented here today can step up our efforts and our cooperation," he said.


The UN-mandated ISAF has 43,000 troops from 40 states, but is now struggling against a renewed Taliban insurgency and NATO commanders have sought more troops and weapons.


Germany has rejected calls from the United States and Canada to move some of its troops to the frontline in southern Afghanistan amid warnings that the dispute could harm NATO's cohesion.


But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates adopted a pragmatic line on Thursday suggesting that states which could not send more troops because of domestic politics should send equipment or non-combat troops instead.


"We are realistic about politics here in Europe," Gates told journalists. "The governments here in Europe get it, they understand the importance of Afghanistan but many of them are in coalitions and just aren't able to do certain kinds of things.


"If somebody can't send combat soldiers in certain areas because of the politics at home then perhaps they could pay for helicopters or provide helicopters," said Gates, in what appeared to be a reference to Germany.


German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung resisted US pressure to send German troops -- 3,200 currently deployed in northern Afghanistan -- to the restive south.


The Bundestag voted in October to extend Germany's Afghan mission for a year, but exclusively in the north. Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Germans oppose Bundeswehr troops engaging in combat missions.


French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Thursday that France was prepared to help Canada in southern Afghanistan, but stopped short of pledging troops as demanded by Ottawa.


Canada sent a high-level delegation to Paris Thursday to discuss its request for NATO reinforcements to help Canadian soldiers fighting the Taliban in Kandahar province.


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned NATO allies that Canada would withdraw its 2,500 troops from Afghanistan unless NATO sent 1,000 extra troops plus equipment.


"Yes, we have sent some people to Paris to follow-up on discussions that the prime minister had with the president (Nicolas Sarkozy)," a spokeswoman for Harper told AFP.


Over the last 18 months, the United States has urged European NATO allies -- notably Germany, France, Spain and Italy -- to join Britain, The Netherlands and Canada in fighting Taliban insurgents.


ISAF forces have grown from 16,000 to 43,000 troops over two years, but commanders have been calling for another 7,500 troops to fight the resurgent Taliban, which has used bases in remote tribal areas of northern Pakistan to regroup.

Date created : 2008-02-08