NATO chief: More forces needed in Afghanistan to avert stalemate
NATO needs more forces in Afghanistan if it wants to avoid a stalemate in its five-year-old fight against the Taliban insurgency, the alliance's chief said Wednesday, dpa reported.
And while some progress was being made, most notably with voter registration and with the development of an Afghan police force, "huge challenges" remained, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
De Hoop Scheffer was speaking to reporters after a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
"I told ministers that there is still a lot to do," he said. "To prevent a stalemate - a situation where we are not losing but also not winning - we need more forces."
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which consists of 41 contributing nations - not all of them members of the alliance - has expanded from about 47,000 in the spring to a force of over 51,300 today.
However, alliance commanders and officials say this is still not sufficient to back NATO's counter-insurgency strategy, which requires holding on to conquered Taliban territory in order to start local reconstruction projects.
"We do not have sufficient forces to make that happen at the moment," the NATO chief said.
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General John Craddock, has quantified the amount of additional troops needed at 20,000.
But while US president-elect Barak Obama has said he wants to boost the 20,000-strong US contingent, many European members of the alliance are reluctant to send more forces to ISAF because of widespread public opposition at home.
Speaking to NATO foreign ministers, De Hoop Scheffer also singled out the training of more Afghan soldiers, as well as the support of President Hamid Karzai's government for ISAF, as two key requirements for victory against the Taliban.