South Asia News
BACKGROUND: NATO's operations in Afghanistan
Apr 3, 2009, 8:35 GMT
Brussels - NATO's most important mission abroad, in Afghanistan, was expected to feature prominently during Saturday's round of talks by the alliance's leaders.
NATO began its Afghan operations after the fall of the radical Islamist Taliban regime, in 2001. In 2003, it took the lead of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. ISAF has since expanded to 62,000 troops from 42 countries.
Separately, the United States has 16,000 troops in Afghanistan operating as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The US is also the biggest contributor to ISAF with 30,000 soldiers, followed by Britain (8,300) and Germany (3,600).
This week's NATO summit was to focus on US President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy. One of its primary elements is the deployment of an additional 17,000 US troops, plus 4,000 extra trainers for the Afghan military and the police.
The new strategy also calls for a greater focus on civilian reconstruction and on development projects to help stabilize the country.
NATO should also take a more regional approach, with a closer look at the interaction between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where many Taliban members are based. Additionally, the alliance should put out feelers to Iran and boost cooperation with Russia in the region.
The primary US goal is to improve police operations in Afghanistan and help end corruption among those forces. To do this, Washington is focusing on having European police forces provide more training in the region. Both Italy and France have strong police units as part of their forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
To date, an EU mission on police training in Afghanistan has sent only half of the 400 police trainers promised for the country.
Obama's security adviser, James Jones, as well as NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, have both called on European governments to send more trainers to Afghanistan.