NATO expands its imperialist role


Richard Moore

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NATO agrees to bolster troubled Afghan force
by Michael Thurston
Wed Nov 29, 7:00 AM ET

NATO has clinched agreement to bolster its troubled mission in Afghanistan by 
sending more troops and cutting restrictions on forces already there, while 
admitting that gaps remain.

Leaders of the 26-nation bloc including US President George W. Bush also notably
backed a French proposal to set up a "contact group" to coordinate action to 
prevent Afghanistan slipping back towards chaos.

Closer to its traditional home ground, they also agreed to admit Serbia, 
Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina to its Partnership for Peace programme, a 
decade after the wars which ripped the Balkans apart.

The pledge on Afghanistan, announced at the end of a two-day summit, came after 
the United States and Britain in particular lobbied for more troops and fewer 
caveats on the forces in the violence-wracked country.

Specifically European heavyweight states like Germany, France, Spain and Italy 
came under pressure to do more in southern Afghanistan, where British-led troops
have faced a growing death toll in fighting with Taliban insurgents.

NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 
Afghanistan in 2003. It currently comprises some 32,000 troops from 37 nations 
including 5,500 Britons.

But it has faced increasingly fierce fighting since moving into the volatile 
south this year, and in September NATO's top commander US General James Jones 
called for 2,500 extra military personnel.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Wednesday's agreement.

"Everyone accepts this is NATO's absolutely critical mission," he said, adding: 
"There is complete agreement around the table that NATO's credibility is ... on 
the line."

But he also admitted that shortfalls remained, with military chiefs saying that 
so far 85-90 percent of requirements were in place. "We have made significant 
progress but we still need to make those last remaining steps."

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer highlighted an agreement to deploy forces to 
help out in emergencies. "In an emergency .. they will support each other. That 
is the most fundamental demonstration of NATO's solidarity," he said.

The NATO secretary general also confirmed that alliance leaders had supported 
Chirac's proposal to establish an Afghan "contact group".

This could be along the lines of such a group set up for the Balkans in the 
1990s, comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia,
to coordinate diplomatic and other action to resolve the conflict.

"I have been tasked ... to think about and to forward proposals on the 
possibility of a contact group for Afghanistan," he said.

Overall, Scheffer said the NATO summit was good news for the people of 
Afghanistan. "The bottom line is that, five years after the fall of the Taliban,
Afghanistan is making progress," he said.

While Afghanistan is NATO's newest and most ambitious mission, there was also 
positive news on one of its older fronts, with the Partnership for Peace 
announcements for the three Balkan states.

NATO peacekeepers have spent more than a decade in various countries in the 
region, and the alliance is keen to point the way forward towards their eventual
membership of the bloc itself.

"Taking into account the importance of long-term stability in the Western 
Balkans and acknowledging the progress made so far ... we have invited these 
three countries to join Partnership for Peace," said the NATO declaration.

Also in Riga the NATO chiefs declared "fully operational" the alliance's 
flagship 25,000-strong NATO Response Force (NRF).

The force, to be staffed by NATO countries on a six-month rotating basis, will 
stand ready to be deployed within five days for combat missions, evacuations or 
disaster relief operations lasting for up to a month.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse.
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