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NATO chiefs agree need for Afghan reinforcements

Written by: Staff
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WARSAW, Sept 9 (Reuters) Defence chiefs from NATO's 26 nations today agreed they needed more troops and fewer limitations on the use of their forces to step up the fight against insurgents in the violent south of Afghanistan.

No pledges of extra troops were announced after two days of talks in Warsaw but NATO officials said national defence chiefs had agreed to consult with their capitals on reinforcements to tackle fiercer-than-expected Taliban resistance.

They will meet again on Wednesday at NATO military headquarters in Mons, southern Belgium, for a so-called force generation conference aimed at matching the call by alliance commanders for between 2,000 and 2,500 extra troops.

''That is when they will come back with offers that are either definitive or require parliamentary approval,'' said Colonel Brett Boudreau, spokesman for NATO's military committee.

However, NATO officials are acutely aware that many of the nations it would like to ask for reinforcements have stressed their armed forces are already stretched by involvement in international missions in Iraq, Lebanon, Congo and Kosovo.

''Nobody stands up and says 'No' at these meetings but the many challenges of running multiple operations were raised,'' said Boudreau.

General Ray Henault, the Canadian general who chaired the Warsaw talks, told reporters earlier that defence chiefs were broadly satisfied with the progress made by NATO's 18,500 troops in most of Afghanistan ''but less so in the south''.

Asked whether any countries had indicated they would come up with the extra troops, attack helicopters and transport aircraft which NATO planners say they want to pursue an offensive against Taliban insurgents in the south, he replied: ''I can't give you the exact number, but the chiefs of defence are very aware of requirements...Raising the number of troops will be a political decision.'' MINIMUM RESTRICTIONS Henault said they also agreed to review the caveats, or restrictions imposed by individual NATO nations on what their troops can do, ranging from a ban on night-flying to deployments in direct combat in the violent south.

''In our meeting we discussed national caveats and pressed for the need to reduce them to the minimum possible,'' he said.

NATO says it has killed more than 300 insurgents in the south since it launched its biggest offensive against the Taliban a week ago. The Taliban denies that figure.

British, Dutch and Canadian troops leading the mission in the south are taking almost daily casualties in what is the toughest ground combat mission in NATO's 57-year history.

Germany, which leads NATO operations in the relatively quiet north, is seen under pressure to make reinforcements available despite vocal political opposition in Berlin to such a move.

Spain, Italy and France have troops elsewhere in Afghanistan which could be redeployed to the south, but NATO officials are not optimistic they will offer more troops.

REUTERS SBA PM2156

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