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Afghan, NATO Officials Confident of Alliance's Expanded Role


Afghanistan's defense minister and the chief of NATO expressed confidence that alliance forces will be effective at taking responsibility for security in most of the country, in spite of the recent increase in attacks by insurgents and criminals. The two men spoke at a NATO defense ministers meeting, the first such gathering to be attended by an Afghan defense minister.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak says he is confident the NATO forces are up to the job of fighting Taleban and al-Qaida insurgents, drug traffickers and other criminals.

"We are fully confident that NATO is quite capable to expand to stage three, and later on to stage four," he said.

Stage Three is the NATO expansion into southern Afghanistan, scheduled for the coming months, and Stage Four is NATO's expansion into eastern Afghanistan, expected by the end of the year. At that time, NATO will have responsibility for security in all of the country, except the capital, with U.S. troops leading the active hunt for insurgents.

The move has raised concern among some Afghans that there will be less security than the U.S.-led coalition has provided. Standing with the Afghan defense minister, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de hoop Scheffer said that is a misperception.

"Let no one doubt NATO's resolve nor doubt our capability to carry out this mission, because that is exactly what we will do," he said.

But Scheffer also acknowledged that the expanded Afghanistan mission will be a challenge for NATO's multi-national command and the many governments that must support the effort.

"Yes, we will be tested, but we will react robustly, as has already been done by British forces, Canadian forces, Dutch forces. And nobody should be under any illusion that NATO will be chased away from that region. We will not be," he said.

Minister Wardak said he believes his forces, along with coalition and NATO troops, will get control of the situation in the south within a couple of months.

"We will have maybe one or two months [in] which there will be a little bit of crisis. But with the measures already taken, I think that in a short period I think we will see a drastic change in the security situation in the south," he said.

Minister Wardak said he does not believe the recent spike in violence is a resurgence by the Taleban. Rather, he said the group is trying to take advantage of the transition to a greater NATO role, and trying to convince Europeans to oppose the deployment of their troops in Afghanistan. Both he and the NATO leader predicted that the insurgent effort will fail.