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Follow Obama's Lead on Afghanistan, Urges NATO Chief

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called on alliance members to bump up their Afghanistan troop contributions in line with a pledge by US President-Elect Barack Obama to do so by the coming summer.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says alliance members must do more in Afghanistan

The appeal came on the eve of Obama's inauguration to the presidency. The president-elect has pledged to make Afghanistan a central front in the war against terrorism and has committed to upping the fight against the worsening Taliban insurgency there.

"2009 will see an infusion of United States forces in this operation," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news briefing in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 20.

"I strongly hope that we will also see the other allies step up with more forces and when that's not possible with more civilian aid, development cooperation, reconstruction aid," he added. "I think it's fair and I think also politically healthy for the alliance if we have a fair sharing of the burdens in this alliance and this mission between all the allies."

An additional 13,000 US soldiers are expected to land in Afghanistan by the coming summer, to add to the already 33,000 US and 27,000 European alliance troops stationed throughout the country.

Slow going in Afghanistan

Afghan police forces

NATO expects more from Afghan forces in fighting militants

But de Hoop Scheffer also said the fledgling Afghan government had to do more to battle the Taliban. He admitted that progress in Afghanistan had been laggard but that upcoming elections there could speed things up.

"There is still a lot to be done in the fight against corruption and those related subjects," he said. "The Afghan people will decide in the elections who they are going to elect as president."

The secretary-general reiterated that NATO's mandate in Afghanistan was long-term, and that the alliance had already made significant sacrifices in battling the Taliban. He added that the coming 12 months would continue to be an uphill battle.

"2009 will not be an easy year in Afghanistan," he said. "There will certainly be more violence, including because we put more forces on the ground. Successful elections will be of extreme importance."

French NATO return

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

President Nicolas Sarkozy says the French must have top positions in NATO

De Hoof Scheffer also used the news briefing to express his hopes that France would soon make a full return to NATO's military structures.

Paris is believed to be weighing up a full return to the alliance, but is thought to be seeking assurances that European defense means will be buttressed.

"I hope that the Strasbourg-Kehl (summit) might be the moment in which we can welcome France's move to take its full place again in NATO, in particular in the military structure," the NATO chief told reporters, referring to an alliance military summit to be held in France and Germany in April.

"I think that would be fitting at a summit taking place in the heart of Europe," he said, adding: "France is a very important member participating in all NATO operations."

France was a founding member of NATO, but was pulled out of the alliance in 1966 by then president Charles de Gaulle over what he perceived as Anglo-American dominance of policy.

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