New NATO chief visits Afghan

KABUL: The new head of NATO was in Afghanistan on Wednesday to assess alliance efforts in the fight against insurgents, making a surprise visit on only his third day in office, a NATO official said.

"He is here," a press officer for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP in reference to former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who took charge of the 28-nation alliance on Monday.

"He is touring the facilities and he is meeting with top officials," said the spokesman, Lieutenant Robert Carr.

Rasmussen took office in Brussels pledging to prevent Afghanistan from once more becoming the hub of international terrorism as he laid out his priorities at a time when NATO is embroiled in its biggest ever mission.

The new secretary-general was due to meet President Hamid Karzai later Wednesday, one Afghan official said.

The NATO chief was also scheduled to meet three other leading candidates for landmark presidential elections on August 20 on Thursday.

ISAF is made up of around 65,000 troops from 42 countries playing a key role, alongside a US-led coalition, in helping Afghanistan to fight a Taliban-led insurgency that has reached record levels this year.