NATO wants more Afghanistan troops

Colorado Springs, Colorado (AP) -- NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson has pressed allied nations to offer more troops for Afghanistan as the alliance prepares to expand its peacekeeping mission there.

Diplomats at a meeting of NATO defense ministers said the existing alliance operation with 5,500 troops in the Afghan capital is still short of full strength, over two months after NATO took command of the force.

The alliance is also looking to extend its mission into up to eight provincial cities, which NATO officials said could involve several thousand more troops.

Robertson wants allies to provide 10 more helicopters for the existing International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, and is seeking 30 extra intelligence officers.

The plans for expanding the peacekeeping force are focusing on the creation of "provincial reconstruction teams" that will protect civilian aid workers and help establish order in urban areas.

Four such teams are already operating independently of the NATO mission in the capital -- two run by the United States, one by Britain and one by New Zealand.

Germany is offering to set up a fifth with up to 450 troops in the northern city of Kunduz under the NATO umbrella. NATO is looking for other nations to take a lead role in running up to three more.

Diplomats said Italy, Norway and Portugal had expressed an initial interest in taking on such a task.

The United Nations is expected to approve a resolution this month authorizing a wider NATO mission in the provinces -- something that has long been requested by the Afghan authorities.

The NATO operation is separate from the 11,500-strong, U.S.-led combat force fighting the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

[Source: Associated Press, 10Oct03]

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