Thursday, March 19, 2009

NATO chief arrive Afghanistan on surprise visit

Updated at: 0545 PST, Thursday, March 19, 2009

KABUL: NATO's chief on Wednesday recommitted the alliance to providing thousands of extra troops to secure Afghan presidential elections on August 20 amid concern about the threat of Taliban attacks.The elections were pushed back from April with the NATO-led military alliance requesting several thousand troops for the polls, Afghanistan's second presidential vote and a crucial test in its quest for democracy.NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after he arrived here on surprise visit that the alliance had requested four battalions of reinforcements from the 42 nations in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).He did not say how many men this would be, but ISAF said previously it asked for "thousands" of troops for the polls.At a news conference at ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Scheffer said troop commitments for the polls were not yet finalised but he expected them to be announced soon.Italy and Germany have already committed hundreds of troops and more pledges may be announced at a NATO summit due April 3-4.Scheffer, at a briefing alongside Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, told reporters that the elections would be a challenge."But we are to meet this challenge because every Afghan citizen should have the right, wherever he is, to go to the polls," he said.The threat of insurgent attacks against the elections is highest in southern Afghanistan, where several districts are in the hands of the radical Taliban, in government between 1996 and 2001 and now fighting to take back power."We will bring extra forces before, during and after the elections to make this possible, so I think it's viable," Scheffer said.

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