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Afghan defense minister asks for more help from NATO
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10:05, March 28, 2008

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Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said Thursday that he wished to get more help at nextweek's NATO summit so that his country can eventually stand on its own feet in terms of security and stability.

"I am expecting that the international community will continue to reaffirm their long-term commitment to Afghanistan. And I do hope that they will also commit to allocating more resources to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Security Forces," said Wardak when asked about his expectations from the summit in Bucharest, Romania.

Wardak was speaking from Kabul to reporters in Brussels through video link.

He argued that the ultimate solution is that the Afghan armed forces assume full responsibility of security in their own country.

He said the Afghan National Army is taking lead in an increasing number of combat operations against the Taliban with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in supporting role.

"We will need the help for a transitional period. Then I think we can take our traditional responsibility to defend our country by ourselves," he said.

The duration of ISAF's presence in Afghanistan depends on the amount of support Afghanistan gets to grow its own security forces, said Wardak.

The 26 NATO allies plus 13 non-NATO countries are having 47,000troops in Afghanistan. But only a small portion of them are engaged in fighting with the Taliban. NATO allies are also training the Afghan National Army and the police.

The Afghan National Army is now 51,000-strong. Another 10,000, who are receiving training, will be ready for the spring fighting season, said Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, who is heading international efforts to train Afghan forces and police, on Wednesday.

Afghanistan is high on the agenda of the Bucharest summit. NATO leaders will adopt a "vision statement" that aims to set up a strategy for the years to come.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was among the leaders to attend a high-level meeting on Afghanistan at the summit.

For the past few months, the NATO allies have been wrangling over Afghanistan, the largest operation in NATO's 60-year history.

ISAF commanders have kept on asking for more combat troops and equipment, such as helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. But major European allies have refused to commit more troops or to allow their troops already in Afghanistan to fight in the south of the country.

Canada has threatened to withdraw its troops by 2009 unless a European ally comes to its help.

The internal strife was alleviated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement on Wednesday that his country will send more troops to Afghanistan.


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