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New NATO plan

October 23, 2009

NATO defense ministers agreed on Friday to broaden counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and boost training of local security forces. But they sidestepped the issue of raising international troop numbers.

French soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force patrol as Afghan boys pass by on the outskirts of Kabul
The strategy foresees boosting Afghan training and protecting the populationImage: AP

At a meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava on Friday, ministers backed the idea of a wider strategy to fight a growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and counter growing public opposition to the mission as casualties climb.

The new strategy would involve a renewed focus on civilian reconstruction, the protection of the Afghan population and the eventual transition to Afghan responsibility for security.

"What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilizes the whole Afghan society ... we should reinforce the interaction between our military effort and civilian reconstruction and development," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference after the meeting.

Rasmussen said there had been "a general shared view" among the ministers that more money and resources were needed to boost training of Afghan forces.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Rasmussen said investing in Afghan capacity would pay off laterImage: AP

"Investing in Afghan capacity now means being able to do less later," he said. "Our mission will end when the Afghans are able to take responsibility for their own country."

NATO's Afghan mission currently involves 65,000 US troops and 39,000 from allied nations.

Suicide bombings and attacks against the NATO-led International Security Force (ISAF) are on the rise as the Taliban gain strength and receive support from regions bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Top UN envoy endorses Afghan troop request

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal has called for 40,000 extra troops as part of a revised military strategy. US President Barack Obama is still considering the request. But most NATO allies have resisted pressure from the United States in the past to commit more troops.

German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said on Friday that Germany is likely to stick with its 4,500 troop ceiling for Afghanistan when it renews a parliamentary mandate in December.

Ministers at Bratislava on Friday also shied away from the question of raising troop numbers despite calls from some experts to do so.

UN special representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide
Eide has backed calls for more foreign troops to AfghanistanImage: AP

The top UN envoy in Afghanistan, Kai Eide said that he was in profound agreement with the assessment of McChrystal that more troops were needed. Eide said the Afghan conflict could not only be a US enterprise and there had to be more contributions from others, particularly Europeans.

"Let me say this is not a military process, it can't be done solely by the military," he said. "It has to be a political process, done by the politicians and the Afghan leadership," Eide said.

Troops pledges hinge on Obama decision

But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates declined to endorse the McChrystal plan, which includes speeding up the training of Afghan security forces and putting greater emphasis on protecting the Afghan population. He said President Obama was continuing to review strategy in Afghanistan.

Some NATO allies like the Netherlands and Denmark have said they would wait until after the Afghan presidential run-off vote before making any decision on raising troop numbers.

Experts say any new troop pledges could come at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December, once Obama had made his decision.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed this week to a second round of voting after many of his votes in the August presidential election were thrown out as fraudulent.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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