NATO has taken an initial step toward extending its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan to parts of the country beyond the capital, Kabul.
The alliance has asked its military experts to begin studying the feasibility of expanding the 5,500-member International Security Assistance Force, which NATO took command of last month under a U.N. mandate.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan have long asked that International Security Assistance Force be extended beyond Kabul. The United States and Germany now support that view, saying the force should also protect Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Britain and the United States have deployed such teams, but they fall under the command of a U.S.-led mission of 11,500 troops, which is still hunting down remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime.
Now Germany wants to deploy its own civilian reconstruction team under military protection, but only if it is linked to the security force mission.
This week the aid agency CARE and the New York-based Center on International Cooperation warned that Afghanistan is heading toward disaster, unless more reconstruction funds are provided and security is improved by deploying peacekeepers around the warn-torn country.
Another such warning came from the European Union's special envoy to Afghanistan, Fransesc Vendrell, who said a few thousand more Western troops are needed to broaden security beyond Kabul to prevent next year's elections from becoming a disaster.