NATO to expand Afghanistan presence

Thursday, August 4, 2005

NATO has confirmed today that it intends to expand its presence in Afghanistan by sending forces into the south and east of the country in 2006. The move will see NATO take the lead role in Afghan security.

Presently, much of NATO's 8,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is based in the capital Kabul, with units also based in the north and west of the country.

The NATO decision has been welcomed by the United States who hope that they will be able to withdraw some of its 19,000 troops from Afghanistan. The US forces are based in the south — the centre of much of the violence against Coalition forces in the country — and are not under NATO command.

Ironically, in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan, the US opposed the move amid requests by Afghans for NATO to spread across the country.

Today, Turkey handed over control of ISAF to an Italian/UK-led unit, commanded by Italian Liuetenant-General Mauro Del Vecchio. The deputy-commander is British Major-General Roger Lane of the Royal Marines, who previously served in the country in 2002.

Command of ISAF rotates every six-months. Previous ISAF commanders have been Canadian, British, French and German.

A recent surge in violence against NATO and US forces — blamed on Al Qaida and the remnants of the deposed Taliban regime — has seen nearly 1000 people killed since March.

NATO intends to send an additional 2,000 troops for the Afghanistan parliamentary elections scheduled to take place next month. Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan after presidential elections were held on 9 October 2004.

It is believed that the British Army will deploy up to 5,000 troops next year, likely to be made up of the élite 16 Air Assault Brigade.