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NATO Secretary-General Meets With Pakistan President Over Regional Security


NATO's secretary-general says there are no plans for NATO troops to pull out of Afghanistan. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is discussing regional security with leaders of Pakistan, which says it has increased troops along its border to help curb terrorist activity in neighboring Afghanistan. VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

With violence flaring across Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer insisted the alliance has no plans to pull its soldiers out of the country.

"My answer always is - and let me repeat it here - that my expectation is that NATO forces will be there for the foreseeable future," Scheffer says.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, currently has more than 35,000 troops in Afghanistan. The mission is NATO's largest ground operation in its 57-year history, and its forces have launched a major offensive in the Taleban's traditional stronghold in southern Afghanistan, aimed at heading off insurgent violence.

But Afghan militants have mounted persistent attacks in recent weeks. Suspected insurgents ambushed a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan overnight Monday. Hours earlier, a rocket attack on the capital killed one man and injured at least five others. The Afghan Interior Ministry says more than 100 local police officers have been killed around the country since February.

Scheffer spoke to reporters in Islamabad after discussing regional security concerns with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Like other Western officials, he praised Pakistan's record on combating extremism, but also called on Pakistani leaders to do more to help defeat the Taleban.

"Pakistan, NATO and Afghanistan, we are all in the same boat, we are fighting terrorism, we fighting extremism, and I do not need to explain to a Pakistani audience what the consequences of terrorism and extremism mean," Scheffer says.

Afghan and U.S. officials say Taleban militants have established a series of strategic bases inside Pakistan.

They say the insurgents are using those bases to stage attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, and as a haven from ongoing counter-insurgency operations there.

Pakistan denies the existence of Taleban safe havens, but concedes militants are operating on both sides of border.

Foreign Secretary Khurshid Kasuri told reporters that Pakistani forces are doing everything they can to help secure the region.

"Pakistan has deployed twice as many troops and suffered twice as many casualties as the ISAF forces in Afghanistan," Kasuri says.

He said Pakistan currently has about 90,000 troops deployed along the Afghan border, an increase of more than 10,000 over this time last month.

He said these levels reflect Pakistan's commitment to regional security. Now, he said, Islamabad expects a matching response from Afghanistan.

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