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NATO Delegation Visits  Afghanistan - 2004-04-26


A top-ranking delegation from the NATO military alliance is visiting Afghanistan this week, as more troops may be on their way to the unstable country.

Ambassadors from NATO's North Atlantic Council arrived to assess Afghanistan's situation before a NATO heads-of-state meeting in June.

The alliance is facing calls to increase its contribution to the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, a 6.500-troop peacekeeping body.

ISAF is currently deployed only in the capital Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz, but Afghan officials, along with the United Nations and some NATO countries, say this is not enough.

Afghanistan is still struggling with attacks on civilian and military targets, blamed on members of the former Taleban regime, the al-Qaida terror network, and other anti-government groups.

ISAF spokesman Commander Chris Henderson says while the insurgency is still active, overall security in Afghanistan is improving.

"It would be disingenuous to say it is perfect," he said. "It clearly is not. But things are progressing well. Security is being extended in the country."

He adds that ISAF has had a string of successes during the past week in working with Afghan security forces to arrest a "significant number" of suspected militants in Kabul.

"We are getting wind of them before they can do anything, and getting people off the streets before there are attacks at all," said Mr. Henderson.

While attacks are down compared to last year, insurgent activity continues across eastern and southern Afghanistan.

On Saturday, three Marines were wounded in a bomb attack on their patrol. Thursday, insurgents ambushed and killed two soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition that is hunting militants.

While Afghan and U.S. troops carry out most of the fighting against the insurgents, NATO wants to expand peacekeeping to at least five more cities.

Afghan and international officials say a larger ISAF presence is needed to bolster the coalition force and keep the peace before Afghanistan's presidential election, scheduled for September.

The NATO delegation is slated to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and ISAF commanders, as well as review peacekeeping operations.