NATO braces for violence in Kosovo
R January 25, 2007 7:38 AM
BRUSSELS, Belgium-NATO foreign ministers are to hold a hastily arranged meeting Friday to discuss stepping up military and reconstruction missions in Afghanistan as the country braces for an expected increase in violence with the spring thaw.
Also on the agenda is rising tension in Kosovo ahead of a key U.N. report that the province's ethnic Albanian majority hopes will set them on the road to independence from Serbia.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed the meeting to follow up calls at a summit of NATO leaders in November to improve coordination between NATO's 32,000-strong military force in Afghanistan and civilian development efforts.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that the White House will ask Congress for at least US$7 billion (€5.4 billion) in new funds for security, reconstruction and other projects in Afghanistan, and Rice is expected to push other allies to boost their commitments.
Faced with a rise in violence last year as NATO troops moved into the Taliban's southern heartland, alliance leaders are seeking to put renewed emphasis on winning support from the local population. They want to immediately launch development projects such as building roads, schools and clinics in areas newly brought under the control of NATO forces and the Afghan government.
Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta will set out his government's priorities for channeling the international aid at the meeting. Senior officials from the European Union, United Nations, World Bank and major donors Japan and South Korea also set to attend.
"There is a need for greater cooperation," NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters this week. "We can do better."
NATO officials stressed that Friday's meeting was not expected to produce new troop commitments or increased aid donations. However, several nations are considering boosting their contributions as NATO commanders say more troops are needed for a push against the Taliban in the spring.
The U.S. Defense Department has decided to extend the combat tour of 3,200 soldiers by four months. British news reports this week said the government is mulling the deployment of 600 extra troops, Poland is sending about 1,200 soldiers and Germany is expected in the next few days to announce the dispatch of six Tornado warplanes.
Traditionally, Afghanistan enjoys a lull in violence during the winter, when heavy snowfall in the mountains hinders military movement. After last year's bloodshed, there are fears of renewed Taliban activity in the spring, but NATO commanders also want to make sure they have sufficient forces to launch pre-emptive attacks.
One senior U.S. official this week said that if anybody was going on a spring offensive it would be the NATO troops and their Afghan army allies.
On Kosovo, the ministers will want to make sure NATO's 16,000 peacekeepers are prepared for any outbreak of unrest following the presentation in the coming days of the U.N. report which is expected to recommend some form of conditional independence for the province, despite Serb opposition.
NATO also wants to draw up plans for closer cooperation with the EU which is preparing to take on a major role supporting the administration and policing of Kosovo following a U.N. decision on the province's status.
25 January 2007
NATO braces for violence in Kosovo