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NATO chiefs want more troops for Afghan south

Written by: Staff
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WARSAW, Sep 9 (Reuters) Defence chiefs from NATO's 26 nations agreed today 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.

''Our collective assessment is that we are satisfied with military-related progress to date, particularly in the north and in the west but less so in the south,'' General Ray Henault, the Canadian general who chaired talks among national defence chiefs in Warsaw, told a news conference.

Asked whether chiefs of defence staff had indicated they would come up with the between 2,000-2,500 troops which NATO planners say they want for 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.'' 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 and cornered hundreds more in the south since it launched its biggest offensive against the Taliban a week ago. The Taliban denies the figures.

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.

Under pressure from Washington to do more, NATO expanded its operations from the north, west and Kabul to the south a month ago despite nations having only come up with about 85 per cent of military requests for troops and equipment.

But alliance leaders acknowledged on Thursday they had underestimated the strength of Taliban opposition and called on countries to fill remaining commitments amounting to 2,000-2,500 troops plus helicopters and transport aircraft.

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.

NATO commanders until recently insisted that caveats, long a bane of other NATO operations, were not an issue in Afghanistan. But the rising violence in Afghanistan appears to have prompted them to call for greater flexibility in how they can use troops.

REUTERS PDM PM1833

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