NATO leadership visits Afghanistan
Kabul, September 5, 2006 (AFP) - NATO's leadership was in Afghanistan to assess the alliance's military and reconstruction efforts as its troops conducted a major operation against resurgent Taliban in the south.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and military commander General James Jones arrived late Monday at the head of the large delegation, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Tuesday.
The group was due to visit ISAF troops, including in Afghanistan's southern provinces, of which the alliance took command on July 31 and where it is carrying out a major operation to drive Taliban from a Kandahar stronghold.
The delegation, which includes ambassadors from NATO member states, will also meet President Hamid Karzai and representatives from the United Nations and European Union before leaving on Wednesday, a statement said.
The move into the south is NATO's most ambitious military operation. ISAF has 21,000 troops in Afghanistan, including from non-NATO nations.
Operation Medusa was launched on Saturday with about 2,000 NATO and Afghan troops and support staff. ISAF and the defence ministry have said more than 200 rebels have already been killed.
Five Canadian troops have also died in action, one of them by friendly fire, while 14 British soldiers doing aerial reconnaissance died Saturday when their plane crashed.
The NATO visit is intended to assess the expansion of ISAF, spokesman Major Toby Jackman told AFP. The force is due to move into eastern Afghanistan in the coming months to cover the whole of the country.
It will also look at the difficulties of the military campaign, including in trying to avoid civilian casualties, and efforts to prevent acts such as the burning of schools or extra-judiciary killings pinned on the Taliban, he said.
The group was due to sign a declaration committing NATO to long-term assistance to Afghanistan while respecting its sovereignty, and would also stress the need for continued international engagement to fulfill promises to the country.