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NATO defense ministers to discuss Afghan operation

2009-10-22 08:29 BJT

Special Report: Afghan presidential election |

by Paul Ames

BRATISLAVA, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- NATO defense ministers are to gather here Thursday to discuss the bloc's operation in volatile Afghanistan to block the situation there from further deteriorating.

However, the prolonged White House deliberations over how to revamp its Afghan military strategy means the NATO ministers are unlikely to reach substantial conclusions on proposals to pour thousands of more troops into the Central Asian country.

Instead, the United States, Britain and other nations most heavily engaged in the fight against the Taliban are hoping for a commitment from their NATO allies on greater flexibility and burden sharing - giving commanders on the ground more leeway to deploy troops to the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

The NATO ministers will also discuss enhancing cooperation between the 67,700 NATO troops in the country and some 94,000 Afghan security forces.

The idea is to move from training and mentoring provided by NATO officers to a closer partnership where the NATO units are paired with Afghan counterparts.

Such a move is seen as a key step toward the transfer of the leading responsibility for security in the country to the Afghan army and police, creating an eventual way out for international combat troops.

"We need to invest more, much more, in transition to Afghan lead," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this week. "If we want to be able to do less later, we have to invest more now."

The ministers will also have to consider an appeal from Pakistani commanders for a greater effort from NATO troops to prevent Taliban fighters from crossing the Afghan border as Pakistani troops pursue their offensive against the Islamist militants in the lawless South Waziristan region.

The Pakistanis have complained that U.S. and NATO troops have recently abandoned some border posts, allowing the Taliban to move weapons and fighters across the frontier.

A NATO exit strategy seems remote at the moment after months of grim headlines telling of rising allied casualties, widespread insurgent activity and the botched Afghan elections, which have added to the uncertainty and insecurity in the country, some observers noted.