NATO chief denies allies ‘not active’ in Afghanistan

BRUSSELS (AFP) — NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has rejected suggestions that not enough allies are pulling their weight in Afghanistan, as he welcomed US plans to send more troops there.

“You cannot say the allies are not active enough, because they are active,” he said in Brussels at a New Year media reception Thursday.

“If you look at the recent past, you see a number of allies stepping up to the plate. Even yesterday, we heard that Poland has made a very substantial and considerable offer, including eight helicopters — which is a lot — and ground forces for Afghanistan.”

“Nations like Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, Norway, Singapore, Azerbaijan — all according to their capabilities … — have recently contributed or are contributing forces,” he said.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering sending some 3,000 additional marines ahead of an expected offensive by Taliban-led insurgents in the spring.

“I am very happy and glad that the US government is in the process of taking this decision. I say again, the Polish offer was extremely substantial yesterday,” Scheffer said.

NATO is engaged in its most ambitious mission ever trying to spread the rule of President Hamid Karzai’s weak central government into more lawless parts of Afghanistan.

But the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which the alliance leads has struggled to defeat the insurgency, particularly in the south and east near the mountainous border with Pakistan.

According to NATO figures, the number of troops in ISAF — now provided by 39 nations — rose from around 33,000 in January 2007, to almost 42,000 by December.

ISAF’s military requirements are revised at least once every six months and, while they can move up or down based on current goals, the trend over the last year has clearly been upward.

Despite this, the United States has repeatedly led calls — backed by commanders on the ground in Afghanistan — for more troops and equipment, particularly helicopters.

With around 140 suicide attacks, 2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001, according to a United Nations survey.

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