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NATO Peacekeepers to Expand Afghan Presence

  • Michael Kitchen

More troops will be sent to strengthen the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. The soldiers will help provide security during the polls.

Lieutenant General Ethem Erdagi, the new commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, says more troops will be sent to beef up the peacekeeping body before the landmark parliamentary election, which is expected in mid-year.

"As during the presidential elections, additional NATO forces will be deployed in Afghanistan in order to be able to provide additional security," he said.

The Turkish general, addressing a news conference in Kabul, gave no specific troop numbers.

Guerrillas loyal to Afghanistan's former Islamic fundamentalist Taleban regime have been fighting the Afghan government since the overthrow of the Taleban in November 2001.

Taleban attacks have fallen during the recent winter months, but government officials and the international peacekeepers fear that insurgent action could increase as the election draws nears.

General Erdagi says his force will also expand its deployment in coming months, with European troops taking over security from American soldiers at several posts in the west of the country. They will protect post-war reconstruction projects.

His remarks came shortly after the appointment of a controversial militia commander to the post of chief-of-staff to the commander of the Afghan armed forces.

General Abdul-Rashid Dostum ran in the October presidential election, which was won by President Hamid Karzai. Human rights officials have accused the ethnic Uzbek commander of war crimes during Afghanistan's long civil war.

Presidential spokesman Javed Ludin, announcing the appointment, declined to comment on the allegations.

"I do not want … that people, particular people are singled out on human rights grounds," he said. "That's a completely separate discussion and that's for the future."

It is not clear how much power the position will give General Dostum.

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