NATO says 4,000 extra troops needed for Afghan poll

Wed Mar 18, 2009 7:55am EDT
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By Jonathon Burch and Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - NATO's secretary-general said on Wednesday 4,000 more soldiers were needed to secure Afghanistan's presidential election in August and to make sure the vote was credible and fair.

Violence is at its highest level in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001 toppled the Taliban. Around 5,000 people, including more than 2,000 civilians, were killed in fighting last year alone, the United Nations has said.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he wanted four more battalions in place for the August 20 election. A NATO battalion is just under 1,000 troops. There are around 70,000 foreign soldiers now in Afghanistan.

The election is seen as the key test of progress in Afghanistan and the success or failure of the polls, diplomats say, will override any other events this year.

The United States will send an additional 17,000 soldiers to the country over the next year and NATO commanders have also demanded member states send temporary deployments to secure the election but had not previously given numbers.

Resurgent Taliban militants have managed to extend the size and scope of their attacks in recent years, prompting a stalemate and discouraging some NATO contributors from sending soldiers in areas where militants are most active.

Germany, the third largest troop contributing nation in Afghanistan with around 3,500 soldiers, has already committed an extra 600 troops for the election.

At an earlier news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, de Hoop Scheffer said 2009 would be vital for Afghanistan and emphasized the importance of holding a fair election.   Continued...

<p>NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer speaks during a news conference in Kabul, March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>