NATO chief 'not satisfied' with troop numbers in Afghanistan
Meanwhile, Taliban has been reaching out to government, Afghan president says
The personnel needs of military commanders in Afghanistan are not being met, NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Thursday during a visit to the war-torn region.
De Hoop Scheffer met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier in the day and said that while he was optimistic about provincial reconstruction efforts, he'd like to see more training and equipping of the Afghan military.
"As far as the NATO military presence in Afghanistan is concerned, we are almost there," he said during a news conference. "We have filled what the military say we need by 90 per cent, but not 100 per cent, so I am not satisfied as a NATO secretary general."
One of the top priorities of the mission is to build up Afghanistan's national army and police force to a point where security in the country is able to stand alone, but de Hoop Scheffer said there is a shortage of trainers and members of the alliance must provide more.
On Wednesday, a report from the European think-tank the Senlis Council recommended NATO double its troop presence in Afghanistan to 80,000 to secure the country's south from the Taliban.
An independent, five-person panel of Canadians also met with Karzai on Thursday. The committee, which is headed by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley, was created to review Canada's future in the mission. The committee is expected to meet with de Hoop Scheffer on Friday.
Canada currently has about 2,500 troops deployed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Taliban contacting Afghan government
In spite of the challenges, the NATO chief said he believed the standard of living for Afghans has improved since a year ago.
Regarding civilian casualties, de Hoop Scheffer said NATO has "worked hard" to change its procedures following UN criticism that NATO soldiers were behind an alarming number of civilian deaths.
"I see scores of Afghan civilians being killed by the spoilers, by the Taliban, whose aim it is to indiscriminately kill innocent Afghan civilians in their reign of terror they want to impose," he said. "I never met at NATO soldiers … who will intentionally kill an innocent Afghan civilians.
In related news, Karzai said Thursday that more Taliban insurgent leaders were beginning to contact the government, buoying hopes for peacemaking.
Karzai told reporters in Kabul that overtures from exiled Taliban leaders seeking safe return to Afghanistan from Pakistan have increased within the past eight months.
"As a matter of fact, only this week, I had more than five or six major contact approaches by the leadership of the Taliban trying to find out if they can come back to Afghanistan," he said.
Karzai said he is willing to talk to those Taliban agents who wish no violence against the Afghan people or have no links to al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks.
With files from the Associated Press