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Leaders agree to boost coalition forces in Afghanistan

Video by Rachel MARUSAK

Latest update : 2009-04-05

The leaders of the 28 NATO allies agreed on Saturday to deploy up to 5,000 additional troops in Afghanistan to help secure elections in August and to provide training for Afghan forces.

AFP - As the United States prepares to double its number of troops in Afghanistan at least 19 NATO allies stepped forward Saturday with offers of extra personnel, trainers and aircraft.
The pledges meet important security and training needs but fall far short of the extra 21,000 troops Washington is deploying and experts fear they will not boost the 70,000-strong force enough to hold ground taken from the insurgents.
Officials attending the NATO summit in Strasbourg northern France and in neighbouring Kehl in Germany, said European nations offered more than 3,500 troops to help stem a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency.
By the White House's calculations, however, this represents "up to 5,000", in what US officials hailed as a fitting response to US President Barack Obama's call for a greater alliance role.
Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain made significant contributions, many of them for limited to the period of elections in August, but some of them representing long-term reinforcements.
At least 10 teams of trainers and mentors for the Afghan security forces -- both the army and police -- were stumped up, totalling around an additional 500 personnel in all.
Lithuania came forward with more special forces for southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban and its backers in Al-Qaeda and among criminal gangs are most active, using rear bases across the border in Pakistan.
At least half a dozen helicopters were pledged, plus funds to help run them often at high altitude in Afghanistan's harsh, dry environment, but also three transport aircraft, medical teams and a field hospital.
Belgium offered two F-16 fighter jets.
In terms of aid, more than 450 million euros (607 million dollars) were pledged, sources said, Britain with 200 million euros, Spain almost 130 million euros up to 2012, Germany 50 million euros and Norway over 40 million.
The funds are earmarked for the elections, development aid, a trust fund to build up the Afghan army from 80,000 troops to around 134,000 by 2012, and to boost the rule of law.
The pledges came after Obama unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan, with its new focus the fight against militants in neighbouring Pakistan, and urged European allies to help realise the plan.
"We've started to match real resources to achieve our goals," Obama told reporters at the end of the two-day summit after the offers had come in.
The elections on August 20 are considered a vital test of NATO's efforts to help spread democracy across Afghanistan and foster reconstruction.
Nearly 230 international soldiers, helping out the Afghan forces, lost their lives in Afghanistan in the year to December, most of them in attacks, according to which tracks the conflict.
The Afghan defence ministry said Saturday that 368 of the more than 80,000 soldiers in its army lost their lives to insurgency-linked unrest in Afghanistan in the past 12 months.
The troops meanwhile killed nearly 1,100 insurgents in the solar-based Afghan year that runs from March to March.

Date created : 2009-04-04