NATO to Move Toward More Troops, Afghan Aid

“There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both,” Gates said at a news conference, reported the Associated Press. “And I found that very heartening.”

He also praised NATO allies for doubling the number of troops they have sent to Afghanistan over the past 15 months.

“People really have been stepping up to this,” he added.

Speaking minutes earlier, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the defense ministers did not discuss exactly how many more troops might be sent, the Associated Press reported.

U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has requested as many as 40,000 additional American troops to counter Taliban insurgents.

NATO ministers also agreed Friday on the need to boost training of Afghan forces to allow them eventually to take over from international troops and to insist on higher standards from the next Afghan government.

“There is a support of this counterinsurgency strategy which means that ministers agree that it does not solve the problems of Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists,” Rasmussen said.

Gates also said at the news conference that President Barack Obama would consider specific plans for moving forward on an Afghan strategy over the next two to three weeks.

A runoff election is scheduled Nov. 7 between President Hamid Karzai and second-place challenger Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister.

Afghan authorities and the United Nations have begun distributing millions of ballots, equipment and the ink used to mark voters’ fingers to prevent repeat votes.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission said it would reduce the number of polling stations in areas where the central government has no control and the security threat is high, possibly eliminating some 2,000 of 25,000 stations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, NATO forces were reportedly working on final details of a runoff security plan. “The initial plan always included the possibility of a runoff,” said a spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, the Journal reported. “We’re not starting from scratch but are simply fine-tuning based on the challenges that exist now.”