Friday, January 26, 2007

US urges aggressive NATO action against Taliban

NATO has agreed to step up military and economic efforts to counter Afghan insurgents and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a "new offensive" against Taliban-led fighters.
The United States has already announced it will spend an extra 10.6 billion dollars in Afghanistan and extend the tour of duty of more than 3,000 US troops there by four months.
"The message has been clear that the international community intends to keep up the initiative in Afghanistan," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after talks between alliance foreign ministers in Brussels.
"That means more reconstruction, and we have heard more nations stepping up to the plate as far as their activities are concerned in the field of reconstruction and development," he said.

Scheffer said extra troops would probably be discussed when NATO defence ministers meet in the Seville, Spain on February 8-9.

With the Taliban expected to step up attacks this spring as the weather warms, Rice said the allies must launch a broad compaign across several fronts.

"If there is to be a 'spring offensive', it must be our offensive," she told the ministers.

"It must be a political campaign, an economic campaign, a diplomatic campaign, and yes, a military campaign," she added in remarks prepared for the conference.

Rice presented details of the new 10.6 billion-dollar aid package for the next two years.

Since 2001 US spending in Afghanistan has totalled 14.2 billion dollars.

The new money would in part finance extra Afghan army and police forces. Two billion dollars will go to develop roads, electrical power supplies, rural development and counter-narcotics operations.

"These are substantial new US commitments -- financial, military and political -- to advance our common effort in Afghanistan," Rice said.

"Every one of us must take a hard look at what more we can do to help the Afghan people -- and to support one another," she said.

There was no immediate announcement from other countries of increased resources.

But NATO spokesman James Appathurai said: "Allies are going to step up their civilian, military and economic efforts, with increased pledges for funding... and more forces on the ground."

However the upbeat assessment belied developments in Afghanistan, the world's biggest opium producer whose border regions with Pakistan are a haven for drug runners and extremists like the Al-Qaeda network.

Around 4,000 people were killed in the insurgency last year -- many of them rebels -- and US officials say suicide attacks have more than quadrupled since 2005.

In Kabul, an Afghan analyst told AFP that the US package was not the answer.

"The former Soviet Union also spent billions of dollars on modern weapons and military facilities but they failed to defeat the resistance with hardship and weapons," said analyst Waheed Mujda.

The US offer is partly aimed at easing European concerns that Washington is so focused on Iraq that it might leave them to shoulder the burden in Afghanistan, US officials said.

NATO leads some 33,000 troops from 37 nations under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is trying to spread the influence of President Hamid Karzai's weak central government to outlying regions.

But the Taliban, ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001, is preparing to expand its insurgency in spring.

"What we have to do is get a comprehensive approach that means we can tackle all those difficult problems including corruption and the opium trade," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said.

Scheffer said the allies urged Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda is believed to have a base, to do more to stop insurgents crossing in and out of Afghanistan.

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