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Annan Appeals for More NATO Troops in Afghanistan - 2004-06-25

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is appealing to NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan to ensure elections can be held in September. Security is "the big if" in the Afghan election picture.

Secretary General Annan says preparations for Afghanistan's elections are encouraging. People are signing up to vote at the rate of 100,000 a day and 4.5 million voters have registered so far.

Mr. Annan said the biggest challenge is putting enough troops in place to ensure safety for voters and elections officials.

"If we can get the security situation under control, we should be able to hold the elections in September, as planned, but that is a big but," he said. "We do not have enough troops on the ground."

Mr. Annan noted that the 20,000 U.S. troops and a 6000 strong NATO-led peacekeeping force were unable to provide security outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. He said security conditions have deteriorated.

"I think the American and NATO forces on the ground need to help us and work with the government and with the warlords in the regions to ensure security," he added. "There are places in Afghanistan to which our staff cannot go, even places that we had thought had been safe once."

Days before NATO leaders gather in Istanbul with Iraq on their mind, Mr. Annan reminded alliance leaders of their earlier commitment to Afghanistan.

"The troops that have been promised are not in yet," he explained. "We not only need additional NATO troops outside Kabul; we need the five provisional teams promised to other regions [to be deployed]."

The number of attacks against foreign and Afghan troops has increased in recent weeks. In an area of eastern Afghanistan where troops are hunting Taleban and al-Qaida fighters, two U.S. Marines were reported killed Friday.