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Europe

West Needs Coordinated Afghan Policy, Merkel Says

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on NATO members to improve coordination of military and civil elements in crisis areas such as Afghanistan. She stressed that Germany would not lift restrictions on troops in the country.

NATO troops from three countries in Afghanistan

NATO is still searching for a way to keep all the troops marching in the same direction

The trans-Atlantic alliance is a pillar of Germany's foreign and security policy, but it has to move away from purely military thinking, she told a meeting of German armed forces commanders in Berlin on Monday, March 10.

The chancellor also affirmed Germany's opposition to extending its military role in Afghanistan to the volatile south, a move requested by the United States and other NATO members.

She said her country's NATO-led troops were needed in the relatively peaceful north, where they were engaged mainly in civilian reconstruction projects.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the gathering that Afghanistan should not be divided into spheres of responsibility for peacekeeping, combat operations and reconstruction.

The country would be won or lost in its entirety, he said.

Everyone's a target in Afghanistan

Captain Olaf B. of the German Army contingent of the ISAF Forces in Afghanistan helping an Afghan mother with the shoes for her child in a joint action carried out by CIMIC (Cilvil Military Cooperation)

Focusing on reconstruction isn't a guarantee of safety for German troops

Those building schools in the north are just as much a target of the Taliban as those fighting the country's former fundamentalist rulers in the south, he said.

Germany has around 3,500 troops serving with the 40,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as well as a squad of military-surveillance aircraft. Berlin is scheduled to increase the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan this summer.

Merkel said that while NATO spoke of a comprehensive approach combining demands to focus on fighting the Taliban and the desire for reconstruction there was little to be seen of this strategy in practice.

Calling for structured and effective coordination, the chancellor said there could be civil reconstruction without security but no security without civil reconstruction.

Alliance's internal differences

Non-governmental organizations should also be included in this comprehensive approach, she added.

Her remarks highlighted differences within NATO on the issue, with the United States believing that fighting insurgency in Afghanistan should have priority over reconstruction.

US, British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers have borne the brunt of the fight against the Taliban in the south amid reluctance from allies like Germany, France and Italy to send their troops there.

NATO expansion questions

De Hoop Scheffer

De Hoop Scheffer has repeatedly asked NATO members to lift national troop restrictions

Merkel also voiced skepticism about NATO expansion plans, saying states involved in regional conflicts should not become members of the alliance, an apparent reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

"A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favor but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership," Merkel said.

Ukraine and Georgia participate in NATO's Intensified Dialogue program and aspire to become full members one day. Kyiv and Tbilisi are expected to use the NATO military alliance's April 2-4 summit in Romania to confirm that they are candidates to join the alliance, but their chances of securing a formal invitation seem remote.

Ukraine's leaders have asked to join NATO's Membership Action Plan, but lack public support for the move. In Georgia, the public is largely in favor of NATO membership, but the alliance was made uneasy by the state of emergency the government imposed in December to end opposition protests.

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized NATO's expansion plans, accusing the alliance of trying to replace the United Nations.

Georgia has unresolved disputes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Ukraine has been locked in a clinch with Moscow over payments for fuel supplies.

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