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Heads of NATO, Afghanistan Meet on Election Security - 2004-06-25

Afghanistan's interim President Hamid Karzai and NATO's top military commander, U.S. General James Jones, have met in Kabul Friday to discuss security issues in advance of the country's historic presidential elections set for September. The meeting comes ahead of the NATO summit in Turkey next week and amid criticism that NATO is slow to deploy additional troops.

An Afghan presidential spokesman says Hamid Karzai and NATO's supreme allied commander discussed current security conditions and efforts to ensure September's landmark elections are held on time.

At a meeting in Kabul Friday, President Karzai urged NATO military chief, U.S. General James Jones, to deliver on promises to send more troops to quell violence by insurgents that threatens to disrupt elections.

Mr. Karzai will attend next week's NATO summit in Turkey.

NATO is leading a peacekeeping force of 6,500* soldiers mainly confined to Kabul. It is expected to announce at the summit that NATO is ready to take command of four or five security operations in northern Afghanistan and to deploy an additional 1,200* troops for the elections.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul earlier this week, President Karzai called on the international community to lend more security to violence-plagued Afghanistan. ?We do need the deployment of more security assistance forces in order to provide the Afghan people more safety of life and more prospects for a better election through a fair, free ballot,? he said.

There have been increasing attacks on government targets, foreign troops as well as election and aid workers. Continuing power struggles among regional warlords have also raised doubts that Afghanistan's first post-war elections can be free and fair.

Militants linked to the al Qaida terrorist network and the former hard-line Islamic Taleban government are blamed for much of the bloodshed.

In a statement Friday, a leading international group, Human Rights Watch, called on NATO to immediately expand its forces in Afghanistan. The group says with three months to go before the election, "the country remains plagued by insecurity and political repression."

Human Rights Watch says that any failure of the Afghan polls will be blamed on the United States and its allies.

The U.S. military led a coalition to oust the Taleban in 2001 after that government sheltered al Qaida terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

*corrected 6/26/04