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Afghanistan, Russia on new NATO chief's agenda

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-08-03

Former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen takes office as NATO's new secretary-general on Monday, outlining such priorities as preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terror centre again, and improving cooperation with Russia.

The newly appointed head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says he wants Afghan forces to take over leadership of their country’s security within the next four years. However, he refused to set a date for the complete withdrawal of NATO troops, saying the alliance would support the Afghan people “for as long as it takes”.

Rasmussen faces many challenges as NATO secretary-general, a post he took on Saturday. None is more daunting than finding a winning strategy for the war in Afghanistan. The 56-year-old former Danish PM will also be at pains to improve relations with NATO’s former Cold War foe Russia.

Afghanistan remains a priority and will require a comprehensive approach involving both military and civilian efforts to stabilise the country ahead of elections this month, Rasmussen told Reuters in an interview.

At least 71 foreign soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in July, making it the deadliest month since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Violence across the country has escalated ahead of the Aug. 20 poll.  


FRANCE 24’s Afghanistan correspondent, Claire Billet, notes that nine foreign troops were killed in the first two days of August – six Americans, two Canadians and one French soldier.

“The more troops there are on the ground, the more Taliban rebels are confronting them,” says Billet. She says a favourite tactic is to ambush the troops by planting a roadside bomb. When the bomb goes off, destroying the vehicle, Taliban militants emerge from their hiding places to surround and attack the soldiers.

Moreover, Billet says, it seems the Taliban leadership has re-established a strong hand over its fighters and is following a distinct strategy.

Rasmussen now has to persuade reluctant European allies to commit more troops, money and other resources to Afghanistan. The recent rise in foreign casualties has led to greater public questioning of the reasons for NATO involvement.

Refusing to set a timeline for NATO troops' withdrawal, Rasmussen said the ultimate goal during his term of office was to hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces gradually, province by province.

NATO’s new chief was quick to point out that this did not mean a quick exit from the country. "Let no Taliban propaganda say that what I say means a run for the exit -- it is not. We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes," Rasmussen said.

"It will not be easy and the past months have made that bitterly clear," he added.

Date created : 2009-08-03