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Europe

NATO Approves Expanding Afghanistan Mission

NATO's 19 member states agreed to expand the peacekeeping mission outside the Afghan capital Kabul. Germany, waiting on U.N. approval, is ready to send soldiers to the northern city of Kunduz as soon as this winter.

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A NATO soldier in Kabul, where guerilla attacks continue to threaten the peace.

With a few words of caution from France and the United States, NATO on Monday agreed to expand its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

The decision means Germany, the current head of the peacekeeping mission, will most likely send soldiers to the northern city of Kunduz. Two weeks ago, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet agreed to send up to 450 soldiers to Kunduz in an effort to bring stability to the lawless regions outside of Kabul and provide extra stability for the government of Hamid Karzai.

Karzai and the United Nations have been pleading with the United States and its allies to expand the scope of the peacekeeping mission beyond Kabul. The regions outside the Afghan capital are ruled by feuding warlords and provide plenty of cover for dangerous nests of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

Future troop deployments also considered

The United Nations said it would look at expanding the U.N. mandate carried by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the first week of November. Diplomats said Kunduz could prove a testing ground for future expansions to include additional regions. The 19-member NATO is reportedly considering seven other regions where soldiers could be stationed.

Germany needs both the NATO and U.N. approval before the Bundestag can discuss dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan. Germany makes up the lion's share of the 5,500 ISAF force in Kabul at the moment.

Schröder and his defense minister, Peter Struck, have been eager to emphasize Germany's commitment to the war-torn country. Struck sent a reconnaissance team at the end of September to examine the possibility of sending soldiers to Kunduz, and they returned with approval.

Struck wanted NATO and U.N. approval as soon as possible so that German soldiers could start heading to Kunduz before the fierce winter begins. The contingent will be increased to 250 soldiers by May, with the possibility of expanding to 450.

France and the United States reportedly issued letters of caution on the scale of NATO's commitment to Afghanistan, but had no objections to the expansion.

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