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NATO Eyes Expanded Role in Afghanistan


NATO defense ministers are discussing an expanded role for the military alliance in Afghanistan, with the United States suggesting NATO could eventually take over counter-terrorism operations there.

As Afghanistan prepares to elect a parliament on Sunday, NATO is considering how it can best help the country secure its transition to democracy.

NATO officials say the alliance, which has more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, is preparing to move into the south of country with British forces after Britain takes command of the NATO mission next year.

Currently, NATO's International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan operates in the north and the west, and helps protect the capital, Kabul.

U.S. forces are deployed in the rugged southeast to combat remnants of the former Taleban regime, and al-Qaida terrorists.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him to Berlin that he would eventually like NATO take over the counter-terrorism duties, but he did not say how long that will take.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says the entire international community needs to reach a consensus on the next stage of assistance to Afghanistan after the elections.

"There must be an essential role, of course, for the United Nations,” he said. “There is a critical role for the European Union, and there is a very important role for NATO. No one organization can do what needs to be done on their own. This has to be a team effort in support of the Afghan lead."

Mr. Appathurai says there are plans to hold a major international conference on the issue early next year, possibly in Kabul.

In another development, Mr. Appathurai said NATO expects to open a military academy in Iraq next month to train Iraqi military officers.

He says about one thousand officers a year will be trained at the facility near Baghdad. He says another 500 Iraqis will continue to get NATO officer training outside Iraq each year.

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