After months of deliberating, NATO has agreed to deploy extra troops to help provide security during Afghan presidential elections in October.
Still more soldiers are needed.
Two additional battalions of some 1,800 soldiers are scheduled to head to Afghanistan ahead of the fall elections, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Schheffer said in a statement late Friday. The troops from Spain and Italy will arrive in Afghanistan by September and stay for about two months. The election is planned for Oct. 9.
US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns applauded the move, calling it "a significant step in the efforts of the international community to help the Afghan people."
The alliance had delayed sending additional troops to the still unstable country for months, and some critics have argued that Friday's decision fell short of promises made by NATO leaders in June. At that time they had pledged an additional 3,500 troops for bolstering security ahead of the elections.
Commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said another battalion would be on standby as part of a reserve contingent outside the country. Although he did not give specifics, he noted that a battalion has between 600 and 1,000 soldiers.
"NATO has not failed in meeting its commitment," he insisted.
In need of more troops
In addition to the election security forces, the alliance agreed to provide some 500 additional troops to beef up five so-called provincial reconstruction teams, which are designed to help the central government extend its authority across the country. Officials at NATO headquarters did not say who would provide these troops.
"It's not really clear exactly," said Lt. Col. Ludger Terbrüggen, spokesman at the alliance's military headquarters in southern Belgium. But, he said, "we need a little bit more to get to 3,500."
De Hoop Scheffer most likely will lobby alliance members to muster more soldiers, Terbrüggen said, still confident NATO would meet its pledge.
Peacekeeping mission continues
German soldier in Provisional Reconstruction Team patrols a street near Taloqan in the Kunduz region in Feb. 2004.
NATO took command of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) last summer. It currently has some 6,500 troops in Afghanistan, of which the largest contingent is supplied by Germany with some 1,900 soldiers.
Last October the alliance agreed to expand the peacekeeping force beyond the capital. But, apart from Germany, which sent 240 soldiers to the northern city of Kunduz, NATO has been unable to persuade governments of the need to provide more troops outside Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appealed to NATO leaders to send more soldiers as quickly as possible, as violence continues to threaten the security of the country. Back at their June summit, the allies committed themselves to increasing troop levels to 10,000, but have struggled coming up with the soldiers as long as the region continues to be a high-risk.
Spain only recently pledged to increase its contingent in Afghanistan from 140 to about 1,000 after it pulled its forces out of Iraq. In France, motivation has been low to increase the contingent above the current 540 troops. And in Germany, which has troops in the Balkans and the Horn of Africa, there is little readiness to send even more soldiers to Afghanistan