NATO nod to new Afghan expansion

Portoroz, September 28 :

NATO today agreed to expand its military operations into eastern Afghanistan, even as it struggles to find troops to hold off a dogged Taliban-led insurgency in the volatile south.

The agreement, reached by alliance ambassadors, would see some 10,000 US troops come under NATO control within Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) by the end of the year. It would put ISAF in control of international operations across the country, boosting its numbers to more than 30,000 troops from some 37 nations.

“The formal decision to move to the fourth and final stage of deployment for the International Security Assistance Force (NATO-led ISAF) was taken without any particular problems,” a diplomat said. Defence ministers of the 26 alliance nations were expected to formally announce the decision at their meeting today in the Slovenian coastal town of Portoroz.

The move, for which no exact date was given, comes as the alliance struggles to fend off the surprisingly resistant uprising in southern Afghanistan and amid reluctance among NATO allies to provide reinforcements. It could, if it happens quickly enough, provide the extra troops NATO’s supreme commander, US General James Jones, has been seeking to seize more ground from the Taliban in the south before winter sets in.

Ahead of the Slovenia talks, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed confidence that the allies would step forward with troops and equipment.