NATO agrees to expand mission in Afghanistan

Associated Press

Nice, February 11:

NATO defence ministers agreed on a major expansion of the alliance’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan by sending troops to the west of the country, a key step in a plan to extend NATO’s mission across the whole country. Ministers also yesterday narrowed differences that have stalled the allied training mission in Iraq, with several nations offering to contribute instructors operating either inside or outside the country. Agreement on the Afghan mission came after Italy, Spain and Lithuania committed hundreds of troops to support US forces that will switch to NATO command. The deal ends months of delay while allied military planners sought the extra forces.

“NATO will now proceed to further expand the International Security Assistance Force into the west,” said alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. “We have the resources we need to expand.” The western deployment will double the area of Afghanistan under NATO’s command, to cover just over half the country. Washington has long sought such a fusion, hoping to free up the thousands of front-line troops it still has in Afghanistan.

However the US will keep some units in Afghanistan, serving with NATO or hunting Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders believed hiding along the mountainous Afghan-Pakistani border.