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NATO Confirms Troop Expansion in Afghanistan


NATO has confirmed plans to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan as it prepares to expand operations into the country's still volatile southern provinces next year.

NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer confirmed the plans after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

NATO troops in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, currently direct operations in the relatively stable northern and western provinces.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said the additional troops are part of NATO's plans to expand ISAF into Afghanistan's southern provinces, where Taleban insurgents remain active.

"The NATO force numbers over 10,000. The expansion of ISAF into the south will lead to the arrival of certainly a few thousand extra NATO forces," he announced.

NATO's move south, scheduled for sometime next year, could significantly change ISAF's role in Afghanistan.

After nearly four years of keeping the peace in the north, the NATO troops may have to impose it in the restive south.

A separate contingent of about 20,000 U.S.-led coalition forces is fighting Taleban and al-Qaida linked militants in the southern provinces.

But several NATO members, including Germany and France, insist ISAF should stick to peacekeeping and avoid joining forces with the U.S.-led counter-insurgency effort.

Some NATO members also object to plans to institute a unified NATO command for all international forces in Afghanistan.

But Mr. de Hoop Scheffer expressed confidence that NATO members would pull together and that ISAF and the U.S.-led operation could complement one another in the field.

"It is crystal clear that we need more synergy between, on the one hand the ISAF operation and on the other, Operation Enduring Freedom," he said.

NATO's expansion, both in troop force and regional presence, is prompting speculation that some U.S. forces could begin withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.