NATO fails to lift restrictions on troop use in Afghanistan

Posted in NATO , United States | 29-Nov-06 | Author: Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Judy D| Source: International Herald Tribune

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush at the NATO meeting in Riga, Latvia, where Afghanistan was a priority.

RIGA, Latvia: Leaders of the 26 NATO nations failed to agree Wednesday on President George W. Bush's demand that member countries with troops in Afghanistan lift their restrictions on how the troops are used.

Those rules keep some soldiers from operating in the most dangerous part of the country.

Instead of lifting the restrictions entirely, France, Germany and Italy agreed to allow their troops to be sent in emergencies to bolster the NATO forces in the south, where Taliban forces have fought with renewed vigor.

Bush had come to the NATO summit meeting here to argue for sending more troops to Afghanistan under fewer restrictions, a call echoed by Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Troops from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have taken heavy casualties in recent months.

But after the two-day summit meeting, the question of troop numbers appeared unresolved, and the only agreement reached was one for more flexible deployment in emergencies.

The alliance issued a statement asserting that peace and stability in Afghanistan was a critical priority. The nations pledged to develop a "contact group" that would evaluate issues critical to Afghanistan's long-term stability.

The 26 member nations of the alliance, along with 11 partner countries, have committed 32,000 troops to Afghanistan. But many of those troops have been operating under geographic and operational limitations.

In a speech at Latvia University on Tuesday, Bush said NATO had transformed Afghanistan from "a totalitarian nightmare to a free nation."

The NATO leaders have been meeting to chart the alliance's course in the coming decades. There is fierce debate among member nations about whether committing troops in Afghanistan should be a precedent for future NATO engagement or should be regarded as an aberration not to be repeated.

On Wednesday, the alliance took a step toward resolving that question, issuing a dense planning document - a "comprehensive political guidance," in NATO terms - recognizing that NATO will have to grapple with terrorism in the future.

"Terrorism, increasingly global in scope and lethal in results, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are likely to be the principal threats to the alliance over the next 10 to 15 years," the document states.