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NATO mission in Afghanistan must be reinforced: Scheffer


Brussels : NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Thursday vowed stronger efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, saying the country is the alliance's "highest priority today."

"The Afghan people and government have made immense progress, with the help of the international community," said Scheffer as NATO defence ministers opened two days of talks in Brussels.

"What is now needed is to help create the circumstances that progress in Afghanistan can be sustained and reinforced," said Scheffer.

The NATO chief said Afghanistan needed help to improve security but also assistance for reconstruction, improved governance, police training, and the fight against drugs.

The talks in Brussels come amid growing concern at the number of civilian casualties resulting from incidents involving international forces.

Seeking to stop the high civilian death toll, Scheffer has said he wants ministers to look at ways of increasing cooperation and improving communication between the Afghan army, NATO forces and US troops in the country.

In addition, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has called for enhanced training of soldiers in the Afghan National Army.

NATO is worried that the recent civilian deaths and damage to civilian property in Afghanistan risks eroding European public support for the mission. It also damages NATO's drive to win the hearts and minds of Afghan people.

The 36,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has soldiers from 37 countries, including many non-NATO members.