Monday, November 27, 2006

Nato urged to plan Afghanistan exit strategy as violence soars

By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Kim Sengupta in Kabul
The Independent

"Nato's fragile unity over Afghanistan has begun to crack ahead of an important summit - with one public call to discuss an exit strategy from the Allied forces' bloody confrontation with the Taliban.

While heads of government are to make a show of unity over Afghanistan at tomorrow's alliance summit in Riga, Belgium's Defence Minister has questioned the future of Nato's most important mission.

And heads of the alliance's 26 nations are unlikely to agree to send reinforcements to Afghanistan - dealing a blow to Tony Blair's hopes that others will take up more of the increasingly heavy burden.

Though Belgium only makes a small military contribution to the Nato mission, the Minister's comments will alarm senior figures at the alliance's headquarters where there is already concern that France is getting cold feet about its role in Afghanistan. Paris has remained publicly committed to the mission but Nato sources are concerned about the possibility of an eventual French withdrawal. They are pressing for an enhanced UN profile in Afghanistan to reassure the French who are suspicious about an expanded role for Nato because of Washington's hold over the alliance."

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