NATO chief wants more troops in Afghanistan
NATO’s chief is again pressing for more international troops in Afghanistan in time for that country’s August elections, and pushing the alliance for more engagement across the border in Pakistan.
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer made the comments Thursday at a conference in Budapest, Hungary, to mark the 10th anniversary of the addition of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland into NATO.
"We must ensure that we have sufficient troops on the ground to enforce security both during and after the coming election period," de Hoop Scheffer said, according to a transcript of the event.
"But there’s a lot we and the international community as a whole can do on the civilian side as well in helping the Afghans to build functioning institutions, to fight crime and corruption and get a better grip on the narcotics problem."
Violence in the country has reached levels not seen since the beginning of the war in 2001, and President Hamid Karzai faces a re-election fight this summer.
The Obama administration has pledged 17,000 additional U.S. troops for the war effort and is finishing reviews of strategy and how the war is being conducted.
President Barack Obama is expected to announce results of the review in coming weeks and will present it to NATO leaders at a conference in France in early April. American officials have repeatedly called for more troops from NATO nations — or, at a minimum, the lifting of national "caveats" that limit their nations’ military roles in Afghanistan.
On Thursday in Budapest, de Hoop Scheffer said the mission is larger than simply getting more boots on the ground. The alliance must look beyond Afghanistan, he said, especially into Pakistan, "with which we must deepen our engagement."
He also commented on NATO’s relationship with Russia, which until March 5 had been officially severed because of the war in Georgia. Relations had also been strained because of other issues, but de Hoop Scheffer said it "is too valuable to be stuck in debates over enlargement, or for that matter missile defense, or for that matter Kosovo."
"Afghanistan is one key area where we have obvious common interests but there are other areas as well, such as the fight against terrorism [and] piracy."