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NATO Ministers Back New U.S. Afghan Strategy


UN envoy Kai Eide (right) with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava on October 23

UN envoy Kai Eide (right) with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Bratislava on October 23

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) -- NATO defense ministers have given their backing to the new, broader strategy against the Taliban expounded by top U.S. and alliance commander General Stanley McChrystal.

They voiced support for such measures as increased training for Afghan government troops so they can eventually take over responsibility for Afghanistan's security.

But the ministers side-stepped the issue of whether there should be a big increase in foreign troop numbers, pending a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama.

"There is a support of this counterinsurgency strategy which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems of Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

"What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilizes the whole Afghan society," he said. "We should reinforce the interaction between our military effort and civilian reconstruction and development.

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

"I have made it very clear to ministers that this cannot be done for free," he said. "We will need more training teams, we will need more money to sustain the Afghan forces."

McChrystal briefed ministers from NATO and partner countries on his recommendations that more foreign troops be deployed and his proposal to boost the size of the Afghan army and police to 400,000 from a current target of 230,000.

Rasmussen also said NATO ministers wanted to see the future government in Afghanistan show it was cleaning up corruption and delivering services to the people.

"The government that emerges from this process must be credible in the eyes of the people...considering what we are investing in Afghanistan we also have the right to insist on it."

No Decision On Troops

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said many allies had spoken positively about McChrystal's assessment, but did not say whether he backed the general's call for more troops.

"I was in listening mode," he said. "Clearly one of the things that I think the president is expecting from me is to bring back the views of our allies on some of these issues."

He said he received indications from a number of allies that they were considering boosting their military or civilian contributions for Afghanistan.

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

Obama is considering a call by McChrystal for tens of thousands more soldiers. He said on October 21 that he could reach a decision on his new Afghan war strategy before the outcome of an Afghan election runoff on November 7.

Gates signaled a decision could take weeks.

"I think that the analytical phase is coming to an end and that probably over the next two or three weeks we're going to be considering specific options and teeing them up for a decision by the president," he said.

Ministers expected any new troop pledges could come at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December, once Obama had made his decision. "I think most countries are waiting for the Americans," said Dutch Defense Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said Germany was likely to stick with its ceiling of 4,500 troops for Afghanistan when it renews a parliamentary mandate in December but could review that number in early 2010.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai removed a stumbling block to Obama's decision when he agreed on October 20 to a second round of voting after many of his votes in the August presidential election were thrown out as fraudulent.
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