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US Official Urges NATO to Fulfill Mission in Afghanistan

08 March 2007

A senior U.S. State Department official says the United States is pressing its NATO allies to fulfill their mission in Afghanistan. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says some NATO member countries are falling behind on their commitments because of restrictions on their troops to engage only in non-combat activities. VOA's Deborah Tate reports.

Assistant Secretary Boucher says about a dozen of the 26 NATO countries that have sent troops to Afghanistan did so on condition they be used only for humanitarian missions, not combat.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Boucher expressed frustration with such restraints at a time when NATO forces are battling Taleban fighters to head off a threatened spring offensive by the insurgent group.

"By and large what you hear from countries is 'we have authority from parliament to go on a humanitarian mission to Afghanistan, we do not have authority to put our troops into active combat.' We are saying that this is an alliance," he said. "Everybody needs to participate in whatever needs to be done. Because we had a Taleban resurgence, we have a mission to accomplish as an alliance."

Boucher said the United States continues to press its allies to provide the force NATO has committed for Afghanistan. He noted that France dropped restrictions on the use of its troops and is prepared to use its forces when needed.

Boucher said overall, NATO is doing well, but could do better.

Some Democrats expressed skepticism about progress made in Afghanistan. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the Bush administration's focus on Iraq came at the expense of Afghanistan.

"I do not think all that much progress has been made. We have real challenges. Unfortunately, we diverted attention from finishing the job in Afghanistan when we went into Iraq," Menendez said.

But Assistant Secretary Boucher disagreed. He said there has been progress made in cracking down on the illicit drug trade, which has helped fuel the Taleban insurgency.

"They have eradicated some 6,700 hectares of poppy so far this year, whereas this time last year it was down in the hundreds. So there is much more eradication," he said.

Boucher also praised Pakistan for its cooperation, noting that the Pakistani government has launched attacks on training facilities and armed infiltrators and has arrested Taleban leadership figures.

He also said Pakistan has been an important ally in the fight against al-Qaida.

"Pakistan is enormously cooperative, enormously engaged in this fight," added Boucher. "No country has captured more al-Qaida or lost more men doing it than Pakistan."

Boucher added Pakistan can do more, and said the United States continues to work with the country toward that end.

Boucher appeared before the Senate panel to urge lawmakers to support President Bush's additional $100 billion request for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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