Fri, Jul 21, 2006 - Page 4 News List

NATO chief pledges to continue fight

AGENCIES , KABUL AND PARIS

NATO remains committed to fighting Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the military alliance's secretary-general said yesterday, although he acknowledged that recent fighting has slowed down reconstruction efforts.

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who arrived late on Wednesday for a two-day trip, also urged world donors to keep Afghanistan as a top priority.

"Development is taking place [and] we are now rolling out our presence there," de Hoop Scheffer said of southern Afghanistan. "I, of course, hope that as soon as possible we will see a situation there when ... development and reconstruction can take place."

De Hoop Scheffer is in Afghanistan to review the 26-nation alliance's expansion into the volatile southern part of the country, which has recently seen an upsurge in fighting between coalition forces and Taliban as NATO tries to take control of the region.

NATO nations are expected to give their final go-ahead to expand their mission next Wednesday.

The NATO chief was due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai later yesterday and his defense and interior ministers.

NATO is currently deploying around 8,000 mostly British, Canadian and Dutch troops to the south, taking the ISAF mission to about 18,000 by September.

Canadian troops in Kandahar and British forces in Helmand, currently working with US troops as part of an anti-terror campaign, have met stiff resistance in outlying areas from insurgents wanting to disrupt their mission there.

"It is the combination of efforts we have to make. NATO is there to create the security and stability climate," he said. "It should be the international community as a whole and the Afghan government first and foremost to make development possible."

NATO hopes eventually to take on eastern Afghanistan by November, completing its expansion across the country and increasing its total numbers to 21,000.

The US has at least 21,000 troops in Afghanistan, but there has been talk of a cut of up to 20 percent. Many of those that remain will be incorporated into the NATO force. However, the US will also maintain a combat force independent of NATO to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

Meanwhile, the Paris Club group of sovereign creditors have agreed a multibillion dollar debt relief package for Afghanistan as part of international pledges to cancel 100 percent of the country's estimated US$11.3 billion debt.

The deal consolidated some US$2.4 billion on ODA (official development assistance debt) and non-ODA debts, cancelled US$1.6 billion and rescheduled a further US$800 million, the Paris Club said in a statement released late on Wednesday.

The agreement was reached on "Naples terms": ODA credits are to be repaid over 40 years, including a 16-year grace period; 67 percent of commercial debts are canceled and the remainder rescheduled over 23 years, with a 6-year grace period.

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