NATO forces to expand into south Afghanistan
8 December 2005, BRUSSELS - NATO foreign ministers Thursday agreed to expand their mission in Afghanistan by sending more troops - with a new muscular mandate to defend themselves - into the violence-ridden south of the country.
8 December 2005
BRUSSELS - NATO foreign ministers Thursday agreed to expand their mission in Afghanistan by sending more troops - with a new muscular mandate to defend themselves - into the violence-ridden south of the country.
"This expansion will take NATO into more volatile territory," said Alliance Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a meeting of NATO's 26 member states which also focused on allegations that the CIA has operated secret prisons for terror suspects.
Under NATO's new Afghan plan, the Alliance will increase its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from about 10,000 troops to 16,000.
The additional forces will be deployed in the south, extending NATO's reach to 75 per cent of Afghanistan, said Scheffer.
ISAF is not yet deployed in eastern Afghanistan but plans to expand into the region, considered even more dangerous than the south, at a later date.
Scheffer said NATO's goals were clear: To expand the rule of the Afghan government, to bring peace to people who were suffering and to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a base for international terrorism.
In a related move, NATO is also set to announce that its ISAF forces are being given broader authority to use force to protect themselves against attackers.
"They will not be sent in with one arm tied behind their back," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai, adding NATO soldiers will have the right to "defend themselves robustly".
Up to now, ISAF forces have operated under strict restrictions regarding firing their weapons in anger.
The expansion into the south will be coordinated with about 20,000 U.S. troops operating separately in the country under the "Enduring Freedom" mission which is fighting Taleban and al-Qaeda holdouts.
Washington has been pressing for a merger of ISAF and U.S.-led troops. But following opposition from France and Germany, the two operations will formally be kept separate while operating under a single military command.
Looking ahead to an international conference on Afghanistan in London at the end of January, Scheffer called on donors to help secure the country's future.
A ministerial statement said the Alliance was ready to respond to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's request for "a broad and long-term relationship with NATO".
Amid controversy over CIA "rendition" flights, which allegedly transported terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world, NATO spokesman Appathurai said ISAF had yet to detain anybody in Afghanistan.
He underlined that under NATO rules of engagement any detainees could be held from six to 96 hours, after which they had to be released or handed over to Afghan authorities.
The same rules stipulate that the Red Cross or the Red Crescent must be notified of any detentions, he added.
Turning to the Balkans, NATO ministers said they would fully support United Nations' special envoy Martti Ahtisaari in the upcoming talks on Kosovo's final status.
NATO forces (KFOR) have been stationed in Kosovo since the 1999 war with Serbia and currently number about 17,000 troops.
"Any party which might try to fuel violence to disrupt the political process will meet a stiff response from KFOR," warned Scheffer.
Separately, NATO confirmed it is winding down its disaster relief mission in Pakistan following October's deadly earthquake. Troops are expected to leave the country by early February at the latest, said Scheffer.
Ministers discussed the worsening situation in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, repeating the Alliance's position that it has no intention of sending ground troops to Sudan.
NATO has, however, provided airlifts to African Union troops struggling to stabilise the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used the meeting to firmly deny America was sending terror suspects to be tortured on foreign territory and insisted NATO airports had not been used to transfer detainees to places where they were abused.
"The U.S. does not engage in torture, does not condone it and does not expect its employees (to do it)," Rice told reporters at a NATO foreign ministers meeting, adding: "We have not used airports or air space to transfer people to places we believe they are going to be tortured."
Scheffer said a lengthy discussion by NATO and European Union foreign ministers of the rendition flights and the alleged secret prisons in foreign countries run by CIA had "cleared the air".
Subject: German news