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02-22-08, 06:34 AM
February 22, 2008
NATO Chief Warns of Threats to Afghan Mission

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Militants using suicide attacks that cause large numbers of casualties in Afghanistan are trying to swing public opinion among NATO nations that have troops here, the alliance’s top official said Thursday.

The bombers “want to influence Afghan public opinion, but at the same time the public opinion in our nations who provide the forces,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, said at a news conference with President Hamid Karzai. “Let’s not give them a ticket to ride.”

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said that convincing Western legislatures that the situation was not deteriorating was of “key importance.”

He was leading a delegation of the alliance’s North Atlantic Council, consisting of its 26 permanent representatives. They met with local and international officials in Afghanistan.

Some NATO members have been reluctant to provide troops for Afghanistan or have limited the nature of their participation, leading some participating countries to threaten to pull their troops out. Canada’s minority Conservative government, bowing to a major opposition demand, said Thursday that its military mission in southern Afghanistan would end in 2011 and would not be extended, Reuters reported. Canada has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

Two suicide bombings this week left more than 140 people dead in the south, most of them civilians.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said Thursday that Afghan and American-led coalition troops battled for five hours on Wednesday with militants north of Musa Qala, where Taliban militants were in control for much of 2007 before Afghan, American and British troops took the southern town and surrounding areas in Helmand Province in December.

The Defense Ministry said 30 people suspected of being Taliban fighters were killed in the operation, during which coalition aircraft bombed militant hide-outs. The coalition, reporting no casualty figures, said 11 militants were detained in Wednesday’s operation, and 1,000 pounds of heroin and an arms cache were seized.

Helmand is the world’s largest opium-producing region, and officials estimate that up to 40 percent of proceeds from the country’s drug trade are used to finance the insurgency.

The southern region is also where the insurgency is most active, and NATO commanders have asked for more combat troops for the area. NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces now has 50,000 troops.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said that more troops would be deployed but did not say how many or where they would go.

NATO also lags in efforts to provide enough military trainers to mentor the fledgling Afghan National Army, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said, calling it a “mission of necessity.”

The United States, which has 28,000 service members in the country — both in the NATO-led mission and as part of a separate American-led counterterrorism coalition — is sending 3,200 more marines to Afghanistan in April, most of whom are expected to be stationed in Kandahar during their seven-month tour.