Merkel urges comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Monday on NATO members to improve coordination of military and civil elements in crisis areas such as Afghanistan. ( dpa )

The trans-Atlantic alliance is a pillar of Germany's foreign and security policy, but it has to move away from purely military thinking, she told a meeting of German armed forces commanders in Berlin.

The chancellor also affirmed Germany's opposition to extending its military role in Afghanistan to the volatile south, a move requested by the United States.

She said her country's NATO-led troops were needed in the relatively peaceful north, where they were engaged mainly in civilian reconstruction projects.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the gathering that Afghanistan should not be divided into spheres of responsibility for peacekeeping, combat operations and reconstruction.

The country would be won or lost in its entirety, he said.

Those building schools in the north are just as much a target of the Taliban as those fighting the country's former fundamentalist rulers in the south, he said.

Germany has around 3,500 troops serving with the 40,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as well as a squad of military surveillance aircraft.

Merkel said that while NATO spoke of a comprehensive approach combining demands to focus on fighting the Taliban and the desire for reconstruction there was little to be seen of this strategy in practice.

Calling for structured and effective coordination, the chancellor said there could be civil reconstruction without security and no security without civil reconstruction.

Non-governmental organizations should also be included in this comprehensive approach, she added.

Her remarks highlighted differences within NATO on the issue, with the United States believing that fighting insurgency in Afghanistan should have priority over reconstruction.

US, British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers have borne the brunt of the fighting against the Taliban in the south amid reluctance from allies like Germany, France or Italy to send their troops there.

Merkel also voiced scepticism about NATO expansion plans, saying states involved in regional conflicts should not become members of the alliance, an apparent reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

Both countries are participating in NATO's so-called Intensified Dialogue programme and are aspiring to become full members one day.

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized NATO's expansion plans, accusing the alliance of trying to replace the United Nations.

Georgia has unresolved disputes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Ukraine has been locked in a clinch with Moscow over payments for fuel supplies.

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