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More aid for Afghanistan: NATO head

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
By Slobodan Lekic, AP


BRUSSELS -- NATO needs more international help from the United Nations and European Union to secure and rebuild Afghanistan, the alliance's new civilian chief said Monday.

"NATO will do its part but it cannot do it alone, this needs to be an international effort, both military and civilian," said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who took office earlier in the day as NATO's new secretary-general.

Fogh Rasmussen said his top priorities would be guiding the war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion, repairing ties with Russia that were further strained by last year's Russo-Georgian war, and expanding NATO's partnership with moderate nations in North Africa and the Middle East.

NATO has about 64,000 soldiers in Afghanistan -- half of them Americans -- where they are struggling to contain an escalating Taliban insurgency. More than 20,000 new U.S. troops are being deployed, but European allies have been reluctant to increase their contributions to the international force.

Fogh Rasmussen is the latest addition to the new team of civilian and military leaders to lead the war effort. They include U.S. Adm. James Stavridis as NATO's commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal as NATO chief in Afghanistan, and Richard Holbrooke, as the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fogh Rasmussen's predecessor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer -- who stepped down on Thursday -- repeatedly warned that the war in Afghanistan represents a crucial test of the power and relevance of the 60-year-old alliance.

Asked if the mission in Afghanistan represented a "make or break," situation for NATO, Fogh Rasmussen replied: "It will not be a break, it will be a make (because) a lot is at stake for the Afghan people, for the international community, and also for NATO."

"Obviously, NATO is the strongest military alliance but to win the peace ... NATO must expand ability to work together with European Union, the United Nations, even NGOs," Fogh Rasmussen said at a media conference at NATO headquarters.

Alliance leaders picked Fogh Rasmussen during their summit in April. The Dane was a controversial choice because he infuriated many Muslims following the 2005 publication in Denmark of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

As prime minister, Fogh Rasmussen distanced himself from the cartoons but resisted calls to apologize for them, citing freedom of speech and saying his government could not be held responsible for the actions of Denmark's media.

Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that the 14,000-strong NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo would be reduced or entirely phased out over the next several years. Relations with Serbia have normalized since the brief war in 1999, and the force is expected to be cut by up to 10,000 soldiers over the next year.

But he ruled out suggestions that the drawdown could make more European soldiers available for service in Afghanistan.

He said the alliance also wanted to develop "a true strategic partnership with Russia."

"There is clearly scope to work together on counterterrorism, Afghanistan, counter-proliferation, anti-piracy, and many other areas."

Ties between NATO and Moscow have improved significantly since they were frozen after the war in Georgia, but Russia still objects to NATO's plans to eventually bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance.

Fogh Rasmussen said NATO -- which has backed Georgia since the conflict -- would continue to insist that Russia respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors. "But we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the entire relationship," he said.

He emphasized that the alliance must develop the ability to deploy a permanent naval flotilla to the pirate-infested waters off Somalia's coastline to protect international shipping from further attacks.

"I want to see NATO having a standing anti-piracy role, with the capabilities, legal arrangements and force generation to see it happen."

He said that Madeline Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state, had been named to lead a panel of eminent individuals who will draft NATO's new strategic concept -- basically the alliance's mission statement.

The draft is to be submitted to the leaders of NATO's 28 member nations at their next summit in Lisbon, Portugal, next year.

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