Fresh appeal for more troops in Afghanistan

Nato’s top commander has renewed an appeal for allies to urgently provide up to 2,500 troops for the battle with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Nato officials said they didn’t expect governments to respond within the next two weeks.

US General, James Jones, told a closed meeting of ambassadors from the 26 Nato allies yesterday that Poland’s welcome offer of 900 troops in February had not diminished the immediate need for more troops, planes and helicopters.

Last week, Jones said the reinforcements were needed to pursue the Taliban before the onset of winter enabled them to take refuge in the hills.

Allies have been reluctant to commit forces, as they already are stretched by other international missions and are worried about the risk of high casualties from the tough Taliban resistance.

Diplomats said they expected the call for more troops to feature at a meeting of allied foreign ministers on Thursday in New York, but said decisions will likely have to wait until defence ministers gather on September 28-29 in Slovenia.

They said governments needed time to assess what forces they could make available, to test political support for deployment and to find funding for such a mission. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the closed nature of the meeting.

Although key allies such as Spain, Italy and Turkey have said they would not send combat troops, Nato commanders said they were confident of eventually getting the reinforcements. The delay, however, meant they had less time to be effective before the snows set in.

Nato has about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. Most are engaged in peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in the north and west, but since July about 8,000 troops – mostly from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and United States – have pushed into the Taliban’s southern heartland.

They have been surprised by the ferocity of Taliban resistance and have sustained over 30 fatalities.

Nato has said, however, that enemy casualties run into hundreds, and that an ongoing campaign to push the Taliban out of two key districts west of Kandahar was going well.

Meanwhile, about 60 suspected Taliban militants attacked a police checkpoint in southern Afghanistan, sparking battle in which four militants died, police said today.

The clash occurred Friday in Khas Uruzgan district of southern Uruzgan province, said Mohammad Zahir, the district police chief.

The militants attacked a police checkpoint close to the district police headquarters, and Nato and Afghan soldiers came to the aid of the police, Zahir said.

There were no casualties among the Afghan security forces or Nato, he said.

Police recovered the bodies of four suspected Taliban along with their weapons, Zahir said.

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