BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Tuesday it shared Canada's view of the need to bolster its Afghan peace operation but dismissed charges that allies were dragging their feet, pointing to a huge expansion since 2003.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened on Monday to pull its 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan early next year unless NATO sends significant reinforcements, saying the mission would fail unless more soldiers and equipment arrived.
"We share the assessment that Afghanistan needs long-term support, including military support. NATO as an organization has had a longstanding request for more troops in the south," a NATO spokesman said of the violent region where Canada operates.
But he noted the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had more than quadrupled in size to over 40,000 troops and "is now close to what our military believe is our full requirement."
Canada's appeal for reinforcements adds to frustration voiced by other countries taking part in the mission. In November, the Netherlands decided to keep its troops in Afghanistan despite growing public pressure for it to pull out.
Harper backed recommendations of an independent panel which last week urged Canada to end its mission in the southern city of Kandahar unless NATO provided an extra 1,000 troops and Ottawa obtained helicopters and aerial reconnaissance vehicles.
Harper said he was "always optimistic on these things" and that he would raise Canada's demand for more troops before NATO leaders hold a summit in Bucharest in early April.
So far, 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have died since Ottawa deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2002.
Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Michael Winfrey