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NATO Approves Expansion of Peacekeeping Mission in Afghanistan

NATO has formally authorized the expansion of its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul, in a bid to improve security in the country.

The mission is being extended to the northern city of Kunduz, where German troops are already stationed. A NATO statement said the German forces, which will increase to 450 troops early next year, will come under NATO command by December 31.

NATO says the Kunduz expansion is the first step of a plan that will include other provincial cities in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and the United Nations have appealed for the expansion to improve security in the war-ravaged country.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday called for governments to contribute troops to an expanded international force, saying that reconstruction of Afghanistan is impossible without security. The U.N. leader also requested governments that have influence over Afghanistan's powerful warlords to try and calm them down, "so the United Nations can work in a safer environment."

NATO already commands the 5500-member International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan. The expansion of its mission beyond the capital, Kabul, comes as Afghanistan prepares to hold its first democratic elections next year to replace the interim government of President Hamid Karzai.

Outgoing NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has said Afghanistan will be a tough assignment for NATO, but has to be a success. He says failure there would be a crushing blow not just for NATO, but for every international organization.