NATO urged the international community on Thursday not to neglect Afghanistan at a time of conflict in the Middle East and Iraq, as the alliance gears up to take over security in the violence-plagued south of the country.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and its top commander of operations, US General James Jones, met Afghan and US-led coalition officials in Kabul to discuss what will be the alliance's biggest ground mission in its history.
"I think the attention of the international community could be higher than it is at the moment," said de Hoop Scheffer, referring to renewed conflict in the Middle East and violence in Iraq.
"A high level of political attention is an absolute essential," he told a news conference at coalition headquarters in Kabul.
NATO is due to take over security operations in southern Afghanistan from the US-led coalition at the end of the month.
It already oversees operations in relatively secure areas in the north, west and in Kabul but Taliban guerrillas are active in the south.
Despite a steep increase in violence in the south in recent months, de Hoop Scheffer said he expected to see a fairly quick improvement in security once the NATO mission is fully underway.
"There is still a lot to do. There is no security without development and the pre-condition for development is security," he said.
Ahead of the handover to NATO, the coalition has launched a big offensive in the south against a resurgent Taliban and their allies.
More than 60 foreign troops, including at least six from the NATO-led mission, have been killed this year, the bloodiest period since coalition forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Scores of militants have been killed since the start of the offensive six weeks ago, according to Afghan and coalition forces.
There have also been civilian casualties. On Wednesday night, residents said at least one civilian was killed and several wounded in an air strike by coalition forces in the southern province of Zabul.
NATO peacekeeping troops, mostly from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, are due to take over in six southern provinces on July 31. The extra troops should let the United States trim its Afghan force of about 22,000.
At about the time the NATO talks took place, an Afghan national was killed when unexploded ordnance blew up in the west of Kabul, underlining problems facing a country wracked by conflict for nearly three decades. A district police chief in Kabul, Zalmai Oryakhail, said a 16-year-old Afghan national was killed and two other Afghans were hurt in Thursday's blast.