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Afghanistan Takes Center Stage at NATO Summit - 2004-06-29


Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed NATO's renewed commitment to boost its peacekeeping force in his country, and vowed that nationwide elections will be held there in September. The organization decided to increase its force level in Afghanistan from 6,500 troops to 10,000, but that is fewer troops than United Nations officials say are needed to guarantee security for the elections.

The United Nations, aid agencies and Afghan officials have all said that NATO needs to deploy at least 5,000 more soldiers in Afghanistan to make sure the elections can be held smoothly. But the alliance, which has had to beg individual members for more troops and equipment to fulfill its mission in Afghanistan, is only deploying an additional 3,500 troops, and some of them will be stationed outside the country.

Although an aide to President Karzai says he is disappointed by NATO's offer of far fewer troops than are needed, the Afghan leader himself was diplomatic when he appeared at a news conference Tuesday. "I am sure that the deployment of the forces that you decided yesterday to bring to Afghanistan, with the equipment that they have, will bring a sense of better security, higher activity for the Afghan people to make their lives better," he said.

NATO leaders reaffirmed an earlier commitment to create at least four civilian-military reconstruction teams that will be dispatched to northern Afghanistan. But aid agencies say the north is relatively peaceful and that the troops are really needed elsewhere in the country, where remnants of the Taleban have vowed to sabotage the elections and have been killing people who have registered to vote.

U.N. officials in Afghanistan have warned that the elections may have to be delayed if the security situation does not improve. But Mr. Karzai, who says more than five million people have now registered to vote, insists they must be held in September.

"Having promised the Afghan people elections in the month of September, and having had this remarkable success with the registration of voters, we must go and we should go for elections in September," said Mr. Karzai. "The Afghan people are expecting elections in September, and we are targeting that month for elections."

Analysts have warned that NATO is risking its credibility in failing to provide enough troops to secure the electoral process in Afghanistan. After all, one expert says, the total number of NATO forces in Afghanistan is less than half of the number of troops and police that Turkish authorities have deployed to protect NATO leaders in Istanbul.

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