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NATO vows to bolster Afghan force

The pledge, announced at the end of a two-day summit in Riga, came after the US and UK in particular lobbied for more troops.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2006 17:42 IST

NATO vowed on Wednesday to give its troubled mission in Afghanistan the "forces, resources and flexibility needed" to tackle increasingly ferocious Taliban fighters.

Leaders of the 26-nation bloc also backed a French proposal to set up a "contact group" for Afghanistan, to coordinate actions aimed at preventing the country slipping back towards chaos.

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

"We reaffirm the strong solidarity of our alliance and pledge to ensure that ISAF has the forces, resources and flexibility needed to ensure the mission's continued success," said the 11-page summit final declaration.

US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pressed their NATO allies to send more troops and cut restrictions on British-led forces which are facing growing casualties in southern Afghanistan.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer confirmed that a number of countries had agreed to cut caveats, or restrictions on the use of their national forces deployed in Afghanistan.

"We have made real progress on caveats. A number of nations have diminished their caveats," he said.

In particular there was 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 NATO leaders had supported a proposal by French President Jacques Chirac to establish a "contact group" for Afghanistan.

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, de Hoop 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.

"There is not the slightest reason to voice doom and gloom on Afghanistan. Afghanistan is being won, but is not yet won."