NATO seeks new Afghan push from summit

Thu Mar 27, 2008 9:46am EDT
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By Mark John

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's leaders want next week's summit in Romania to resolve internal tensions over its mission in Afghanistan and commit more troops, signaling its willingness to stay the course there and defeat the Taliban.

Months of noisy infighting about troop levels, tactics and the refusal of some European allies to send soldiers into the fiercest fighting have overshadowed what alliance officials say is modest but real progress in security and reconstruction.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday he could come to the April 2-4 Bucharest meeting armed with an offer of more troops, as part of a wider move to bolster operations in the heartlands of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.

The scheduled presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is designed to show Afghan authorities are serious about tackling corruption and that the world body is ready to address deficits in its aid effort.

NATO allies are putting the final touches to a four-page "vision statement" aimed at bracing skeptical publics for the prospect of a continued Afghan presence -- with all the ensuing casualties and costs to national purses -- for years to come.

"This is going to take a consistent long-term international effort," Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay, whose country has threatened to pull its troops out next year unless allies provide more support, told a conference in Brussels this month.

NATO's move in 2003 to assume the U.N. mandate to provide security in Afghanistan, two years after the U.S.-led ousting of the Taliban, has thrust the 26-nation alliance into its toughest ground war in a Muslim land far from its Euro-Atlantic patch.

NATO officials now put the presence of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) at 47,000 -- nine times more than the 5,000-strong force of four years ago.   Continued...

<p>Coalition forces return fire during an engagement with Taliban in Farah Province, December 5, 2007. REUTERS/ U.S. Army/Sgt. Michael Zuk/Handout</p>