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NATO split on more Afghanistan troops

Canada seeks support in south; Germany resists

RIGA, Latvia -- NATO was divided at its summit yesterday on deploying more troops to Afghanistan's volatile south, with Germany resisting any permanently expanded presence and Canada complaining of bearing the brunt of an increasingly bloody mission.

Despite the strengthening Taliban insurgency and unexpectedly high casualties, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that by 2008, he hopes Afghan forces can begin taking over security tasks.

President Bush called the Afghanistan mission -- which has mobilized 32,800 troops-- NATO's number one operation. Defeating Taliban forces, he said, "will require the full commitment of our alliance."

"The commanders on the ground must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs," Bush said, crediting the alliance for helping Afghanistan go from "a totalitarian nightmare" to stability and steadily growing prosperity.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear that her country would not permanently expand its 2,900-strong force, though she said German forces could be deployed in the south in an emergency. Canada's foreign minister warned that public support will fade if other countries don't relax restrictions on use of their troops and help Canadian forces in the south.

Canada has suffered 44 deaths in Afghanistan -- 36 this year alone. Most occurred after NATO forces moved into the south this summer.

Poland's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said the full deployment of hundreds of new Polish troops to Afghanistan will be delayed by about three weeks because barracks for them will not be ready as scheduled.

De Hoop Scheffer urged NATO allies not to lose heart, insisting the operation was a "mission possible."

"We need to be frank about the risks, but we also need to avoid overdramatizing," he said. "NATO has been in Afghanistan for three years -- time enough to know what it takes to succeed."

Afghanistan dominated the discussion at a gala dinner last night, a senior NATO diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the leaders were unable to persuade some countries to ease restrictions on the movement of their troops, he said.

Today's summit-ending communique "will call on the Afghan government to assume a more distinctive role in maintaining security, and also call on the UN to manifest a leading role in the country," the official said.

Three countries pledged additional troops, one offered fighter aircraft, and in cases of emergency, all 26 NATO allies agreed "to come to the aid of each other," another alliance official said on condition of anonymity.

The dangers to the NATO force were underscored by recent attacks.

Yesterday, a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle next to a counterterrorism police truck that had been chasing him in western Afghanistan, killing a police officer and wounding another. Two Canadian soldiers were reported slain by a suicide car bomber Monday, and on Sunday a suicide bomber killed 15 Afghans.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed that NATO forces must have the flexibility and the troops to go where the need is greatest.

"We have got to send a clear message that NATO is prepared to make the military commitment necessary to sustain its mission in Afghanistan," he said. "It's important that we have the force generation and flexibility we need to make our mission successful."

US General James L. Jones, NATO's supreme allied commander, said he had commitments from some of the nations that have imposed restrictions on the use of their troops that could free up about 2,000 additional soldiers for possible duty in the south.

Italy was expected to lift restrictions in extreme circumstances.

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