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NATO to send more troops to the region, top general says

KABUL, Afghanistan -- NATO-led troops battling resurgent Taliban militants will soon be reinforced with another combat brigade, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan said yesterday.

General David Richards said the brigade will consist of members of different nations participating in NATO's International Security Assistance Force. A brigade is typically 1,500 to 3,500 troops. Richards did not specify how many reinforcements he expected. "I anticipate at least another brigade of combat troops from ISAF nations coming here shortly and more after that," he told reporters.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, officials would not say what countries planned to send reinforcements, saying such announcements are up to individual nations.

However, several countries plan to boost their contributions in answer to requests for more troops to join the fight against the Taliban.

Poland is expected to send about 1,200 soldiers in February and British media have reported that Britain is considering deploying 600 extra troops. It was not clear if Richards was referring to those upcoming troop contributions.

In addition, the US Defense Department said Wednesday that 3,200 soldiers from the New York-based 10th Mountain Division already in the country would have their tour extended by four months.

The NATO-led force, which is bracing for renewed fighting with Taliban militants this spring, is about 20 percent short of the troop levels pledged by its contributing nations.

Richards made the comments during the opening of a joint operations center in Kabul that will be manned by officers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO. The three are trying to increase coordination in their counter insurgency efforts.

Also yesterday, Italy's government approved financing for the country's military mission in Afghanistan despite calls for a pullout by far-left parties in Premier Romano Prodi's coalition. Prodi has agreed to keep Italy's 1,800-strong contingent in Afghanistan, although he has resisted NATO's request to increase its size.