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NATO wants troops to boost Afghan forces training

By Ibon Villelabeitia
/ Source: Reuters

By Ibon Villelabeitia

NATO's secretary-general urged member countries on Friday to increase the training of Afghan security forces and said the alliance would stay in Afghanistan "as long as it takes".

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who earlier this month called for reinforcements, would not comment further on troops numbers, preferring to wait until the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan issues a review of the conflict in the coming weeks.

"I think it is premature to present exact numbers. We are waiting for an analysis from (U.S. Army General Stanley) McChrystal and on the basis of that analysis we will be able to calculate the exact number of troops," Rasmussen said in an interview with a small group of foreign media in Turkey.

But he added: "The number of troops does matter."

Rasmussen urged allies to boost efforts to train Afghan security forces, which he has said must be doubled in size to 400,000 personnel to allow them to take over security from Western troops who hope eventually to withdraw.

"We need trainers. I urge all allies to step up in the endeavor."

There are now more than 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, including about 62,000 Americans -- nearly double the U.S. strength at the start of the year.

Rasmussen, who was recently in Afghanistan, said security had improved, including in the violent Helmand province, but said it was still "not satisfactory".

"We will prevail. We cannot allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for al Qaeda. A lot of progress has been achieved. It is premature to present a timetable for withdrawal, but we will stay as long as it takes."

Partial results from an August 20 presidential election show President Hamid Karzai leading his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who has said the polls were "widely rigged."

Rasmussen said he was not concerned about the long wait for a result. "Responsibility and care are more important than speed when it comes to releasing the elections results," he said.

"We should not be surprised if we are presented with examples of fraud," he said, adding it was up to the Afghan officials to deal with alleged irregularities.

NATO was ready to provide security in the event of a second round run-off, he said.