The NATO alliance has agreed to a limited expansion of its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul. Diplomats at NATO headquarters say the alliance's military planners have been tasked with making preparations for such a move.
Diplomats say NATO ambassadors agreed in principle to expand the NATO-run International Security Assistance Force to deal with an upsurge of violence in several parts of Afghanistan.
The diplomats say NATO will contact the United Nations and ask it to draw up a resolution authorizing such a move.
The ambassadors also agreed to allow Germany to lead a so-called provincial reconstruction team of at least 200 soldiers to the northern Afghan town of Kunduz.
Germany, which has refused to send troops to Iraq, wants to expand its presence in Afghanistan and has been lobbying both the U.N. and its allies in NATO for an enhanced peacekeeping force there.
Currently, the peacekeeping force has just more than 5,000 troops, and its operations are limited to Kabul.
The United States leads another force that is engaged in hunting down diehards of the al-Qaeda terrorist movement and their resurgent Taleban allies.
Diplomats at NATO say one idea under consideration is to send additional NATO troops to at least seven other Afghan towns as members of provincial reconstruction teams.
The issue has gained urgency, not only because of lawlessness in several parts of Afghanistan and new attacks by Taleban fighters.
NATO diplomats say an enhanced presence of the peacekeeping force is necessary if the central Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai is to assert its authority over feuding warlords in the provinces.
The Afghan authorities want to begin disarming tens of thousands of militiamen across the country. And to help them in that task, they will need an extension of the NATO security blanket to areas outside Kabul.
Where NATO will get the additional troops it needs in Afghanistan is an open question. The alliance is already stretched by its peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans. And allies like the United States, Britain, and Poland are heavily involved in Iraq.
One diplomat says a decision may be reached at a NATO defense ministers' meeting this week in Colorado.