NATO ministers meeting in the Belgian capital have thrown their weight behind a U.S. plan to reorganize the military command in Afghanistan, to better handle an influx of new troops.
Over the past year, NATO has nearly doubled its force in Afghanistan to about 60,000 troops. That force will increase still more during the coming months as some 21,000 more American soldiers arrive. NATO officials also said the alliance will send up to 10,000 extra troops for security during the presidential elections in Afghanistan on August 20.
NATO plans to increase the training of Afghanistan security forces so they can work with the alliance in stemming a rising Taliban insurgency that is aided by the al-Qaida terrorist group.
Separately, NATO ministers also agreed to maintain the anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa - one of the world's busiest shipping routes. The mission includes international patrols to try and stop pirate attacks in one of the world's busiest sea lanes. Overall, British Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth described the NATO talks as a productive follow-up to the April NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.
"We've moved quickly to put some flesh on the decisions taken at Strasbourg to establish a NATO training mission in Afghanistan, serving both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police," he said. "And we've also decided to make the NATO maritime standing group available for counter-piracy work to complement the many other assets that are doing this job off the Horn of Africa. So, some decisions, good meetings and I'm enormously pleased to be here," he said.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Afghanistan faced major challenges, including the insurgency, reconstruction and development and the presidential elections, in August.