NATO agrees to send more troops to Afghanistan, rules out combat role

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
BRUSSELS
Published 29.06.2017 11:27
Updated 29.06.2017 11:33
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NATO allies will increase troop numbers in Afghanistan to help the government battle a resurgent Taliban but there is no question of returning to a combat role, the alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

NATO ended its longest-ever military operation in 2014 when it handed over frontline duties to the Afghan military and took on an advice and training mission, but recent Taliban gains have dented hopes of a quick end to the war.

As he arrived for a defence ministers meeting in Brussels to discuss the issue, Stoltenberg said the 29 NATO allies were considering an increase of several thousand soldiers.

"I can confirm we will increase our presence in Afghanistan," he said, adding that the increase does not mean the alliance will once again combat the Taliban and extremist groups there and that the additional troops now could help bolster Afghan special forces, improve Kabul's air force to provide ground support and evacuations, and step up officer training, he added.

The alliance chief said that "15 nations have already pledged additional contributions" and that he expected more pledges later in the day.

Stoltenberg did not give exact figures but diplomatic sources say an increase of up to 3,000 troops is under consideration.

The alliance currently has about 13,500 soldiers in what is known as the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, of which half are from the US.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is due to brief the allies later Thursday but Stoltenberg said he did not expect him to give specific troop numbers.

"We will look into how we together can... have enough troops to help the government and break the stalemate and so lay the ground for a political solution," Stoltenberg said.

European allies and Canada are waiting to hear what Mattis will offer, or indeed seek from them.

Meanwhile, British Defence Minister Michael Fallon said London would provide just under 100 troops, on top of 500 already in Afghanistan.

Like Stoltenberg, Fallon emphasised that the troops would have no combat role and that the deployment was needed to help Afghanistan combat terrorism which threatened regions across the globe, including Europe.

"There is every incentive to stay the course," he said.

NATO particularly wants to train more Afghan special operations forces, which are key to countering Taliban insurgents and extremist groups undermining the weak central government in Kabul. The alliance also wants to help build up the country's fledgling air force and train pilots. Another aim is to improve officer leadership standards.

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