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NATO chief assures Obama on Afghan war support

Other News Materials 30 September 2009 02:51 (UTC +04:00)
NATO's chief assured President Barack Obama on Tuesday of the alliance's commitment to the Afghan war as the U.S. administration weighed sending more troops to try to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban, Reuters reported.
NATO chief assures Obama on Afghan war support

NATO's chief assured President Barack Obama on Tuesday of the alliance's commitment to the Afghan war as the U.S. administration weighed sending more troops to try to turn the tide against a resurgent Taliban, Reuters reported.

Promising that NATO will stay in Afghanistan "as long as it takes to finish our job," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sought to ease Americans' doubts about whether their allies have the stomach to stay in the fight.

Public opinion in both the United States and Europe has turned increasingly against what Obama's aides once hailed as the "good war," compared to the highly unpopular war in Iraq that occupied the focus of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"Our operation in Afghanistan is not America's responsibility or burden alone: It is and it will remain a team effort," Rasmussen said after White House talks with Obama.

Obama stressed the same point, insisting, "This is not an American battle, this is a NATO mission, as well," and he thanked Rasmussen for committing the alliance to a "full partnership" in Afghanistan.

Obama, who will meet top advisers about Afghanistan on Wednesday, has said he will not decide on sending further U.S. troops for Afghanistan until after a broad review of his administration's approach is finished.

Rasmussen said he agreed with Obama's approach of "strategy first, then resources."

But in a sign of misgivings among U.S. allies, Rasmussen said in a speech on Monday European countries were likely to be more comfortable contributing trainers than combat troops.

He stressed, however, that they had added 9,000 troops in the last 18 months.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has warned the Afghan effort would likely result in failure without a "significant change in strategy," which would also involve bringing in more troops.

He is believed to be seeking 30,000 to 40,000 combat troops and trainers, according to defense and congressional officials.

The Obama administration has already almost doubled its number of troops in Afghanistan this year to 62,000 to contend with the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001.

Obama now faces a fierce debate on the issue within his own administration as well as opposition from some of his fellow Democrats to an escalation of U.S. forces. A decision is expected to take at least several weeks.

Underscoring the security threat, a roadside bomb killed 30 people in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials said.

Ahmed Shah, 45, lying in a hospital in the southern city of Kandahar, said he was in a seat at the back of the crowded bus when it swerved off road to avoid a crater left from another roadside bomb the previous day.

"Then there was this big blast. I don't know how many people were killed or wounded. I woke up in the hospital," he said, his face slashed by shrapnel wounds.

More than 1,500 civilians have been killed by violence in Afghanistan so far this year, the United Nations said.

It said 68 percent of the civilian killings were a result of militant attacks, while 23 percent were caused by Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military.

Attacks by insurgents have become deadlier this year than at any time in the eight-year-old war.

Polls show support at home for the war, launched by Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has waned in recent weeks.

Obama's decision on whether to send more troops has been made more complicated by a dispute over the Afghan presidential election, and a final call over what strategy to follow is unlikely to be made until that dispute is resolved.

Afghan election officials have sent for ballot boxes to conduct a partial recount of the August 20 vote, after charges of widespread fraud and rigging.

Preliminary results gave President Hamid Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote, but a U.N.-backed fraud watchdog has ordered an audit of the results from 12 percent of polling stations where suspiciously large numbers of votes were cast or one candidate received 95 percent.

If enough votes for Karzai are nullified that he no longer has 50 percent, he would face a second-round run-off against his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

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