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US, Britain Urge NATO Allies to Boost Afghan Military Presence


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warns that the military fight in Afghanistan will be long, hard and a real test for NATO. She was speaking in London, where she held meetings with British leaders, as VOA's Sonja Pace reports from the British capital.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to London for a one-day visit to shore up support from America's staunchest ally. She met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband. How to beef up NATO involvement in Afghanistan was to be the main topic of discussion.

Speaking briefly to reporters, Rice said Afghanistan is a real test for the NATO alliance.

"We shouldn't underestimate the transformation that NATO itself has gone through in being able to really learn how to fight this fight," she said. "This is a different fight than NATO was structured to do. It's taken some time, it may take some more time, but if the commitment is there and the will is there."

NATO currently has more than 40,000 troops in Afghanistan - the bulk of which are made up of U.S. troops of about 16,000. The United States has more than 13,000 soldiers on the ground operating independently of NATO and is planning to send in several thousand more. Britain has nearly 8,000 soldiers in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Both countries want to see other NATO partners step up their participation.

That has been the American message and one that Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeated in parliament just hours before he met with Rice.

"We [Britain] have 15 percent of the troops in Afghanistan, other countries, including Spain and France, have made announcements to add to the troops in Afghanistan, but we need a proper burden-sharing, not only in terms of personnel, but also in terms of helicopters and other equipment," Brown said.

Afghanistan is expected to be a key issue in meetings of NATO ministers in the weeks to come and at the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April.

The United States has been critical of some NATO allies for not sending enough troops and for not operating in the most volatile areas of the country, where U.S. forces are fighting against a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

Secretary Rice acknowledged the fight in Afghanistan will be long and difficult.

"Our populations need to understand that this is not a peacekeeping mission; this is a counter insurgency fight and that's different," she said.

Her talks in London follow a dire assessment of the situation in Afghanistan earlier this week. In a report, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned that Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

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