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NATO leaders visit southern Afghanistan

Civilian Chief Secy-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer travelled down to the volatile south from Kabul where he met President Karzai.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2006 16:19 IST

NATO's leadership visited insurgency-hit southern Afghanistan on Friday on a tour to finalise the alliance's assumption of command of the troubled area in the coming weeks.

Civilian chief Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and military commander General James Jones travelled down to the volatile south from the capital Kabul where they met President Hamid Karzai and others on Thursday.

They were scheduled to briefly visit the southern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand, which are due to come under NATO command around July 31 when a US-led coalition in the area for years hands over authority.

The provinces have seen an upsurge in attacks blamed on militants from the extremist Taliban government.

They are also the focus of the largest operation launched against the militants by the coalition and the Afghan security forces since the hardliners fell.

Operation Mountain Thrust, launched mid-May, has seen several major strikes across the south, some killing dozens of rebels at one go, according to military officials.

About 800 people have been killed in action since the operation was launched, most of them rebels.

The message of the NATO leaders' tour that began late Wednesday has been that if lasting solutions are to be achieved then counter-insurgent activity has to be accompanied by development.

"It's an illusion to think that there is a military solution to Afghanistan," De Hoop Scheffer said yesterday, urging the international community to match the expansion of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with development.