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US Vice President Calls for More NATO Support in Afghanistan


Mounting concern about the resurgent Taliban and the Afghanistan economy have prompted the U.S. vice president to make a surprise visit there. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad that Dick Cheney is calling the continuing presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan vital for the country's future.

In an unannounced trip to Kabul, his fourth visit to Afghanistan as vice president, Dick Cheney is asking NATO countries to make an even stronger commitment to the war-ravaged country.

NATO members are considering whether to send more troops to Afghanistan at a time when the anti-terrorism campaign is becoming more unpopular for European politicians. But the U.S. vice president says the United States and NATO need to maintain sufficient forces in Afghanistan to counter a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida.

"But ultimately security in Afghanistan will depend on the ability of the Afghan people to provide adequate forces that are well trained and well equipped," he said.

Standing besides Cheney at the heavily guarded presidential palace, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, said NATO's presence is needed until Afghanistan is ready to protect itself.

"As we get stronger with our own institutions, so we lessen the responsibility of the international community in defending Afghanistan and fighting terrorism," he said.

Afghanistan has 70,000 troops of its own, which are considered to be relatively well-trained, but the Defense Ministry says many thousands more are needed. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has 43,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, routed by U.S.-led and Afghan forces following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, have been able to regroup.

The issue of dispatching more troops will be discussed at a NATO summit next month in Romania.

Cheney also expressed confidence that the new democratically-elected coalition government being formed in Pakistan will remain allied with Washington in the fight against terrorism.

The vice president told reporters he is certain the incoming politicians in Islamabad understand that al-Qaida forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border are also looking to target them.

"We believe, as I think most people do, that a government has an obligation to control its sovereign territory, to make certain that territory does not become a safe haven or sanctuary, especially for terrorist groups intending to do harm to others," he added. "And I would expect that Pakistan will certainly fulfill that obligation."

That was a reference to previous Afghan complaints that Pakistan has allowed terrorists to take refuge in the mountainous border region.

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