Slovakia to add 250 NATO troops to Afghan mission

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 5:44 PM

Slovakia pledged about 250 extra soldiers Tuesday to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, the first of what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said would be a series of international reinforcements.

The central European country will double the size of its 246-strong contingent in Afghanistan, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said in a joint statement with Brown following talks in the British capital.

Brown, who has said he is lobbying allies in Europe and elsewhere for as many as 5,000 extra soldiers, said more such announcements were on their way.

"We will be approaching other countries and I believe that, including Britain, maybe 10 countries will be prepared to give extra support in Afghanistan," he said.

NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in the Scottish city of Edinburgh on Tuesday for an address to the group's parliamentary assembly, has steered clear of saying how many reinforcements the trans-Atlantic alliance was willing to send to Afghanistan.

He told delegates NATO was leaning toward adopting a new counterinsurgency strategy that would include a substantial number of extra troops _ but he did not elaborate.

David Miliband, Britain's foreign minister, told the same meeting that military action must be accompanied by a political surge to restore Afghans' faith in their corruption-scarred government _ something he said would include appointing senior Taliban commanders to the government in Kabul.

Miliband acknowledged that persuading top Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and join the government would be "far from straightforward" but said it would have to happen sooner or later.

"The historical lessons are clear," he said. Blood enemies from the Soviet period and the civil war now work together in government. Former Talibs already sit in the parliament. It is essential that, when the time is right, members of the current insurgency are encouraged to follow suit."

Miliband spoke less than 24 hours after Brown used a major foreign policy address to insist that Britons have no choice but to keep fighting in Afghanistan, telling a white-tie gathering in London's 15th century Guildhall Monday evening that it was "only by standing up to the terrorist threat at its source that we can properly defend our shores."

Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest international contingent after America's 68,000 troops, but public support for the conflict has fallen as casualties have risen.

Slovakia's modest new commitment was welcomed by Brown, who has been appealing to the 43 other nations involved in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force to help share the burden of the fighting.

Still, neither he nor the Slovak leader said when or where the Slovaks might be deployed. They currently serve in the Afghan province of Kandahar and in Uruzgan alongside Dutch soldiers, but the statement said they could be relocated to "other territorial parts of Afghanistan."

Britain's NATO allies have been under pressure to move their troops away from relatively safe parts of Afghanistan to more dangerous areas where U.S. and U.K. forces are grappling with Taliban insurgents.

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Associated Press Writer Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.