Afghanistan 'needs more NATO aid'

July 19, 2007 - 0:0

NATO must commit more troops and aid to Afghanistan if it is to establish a stable democracy, MPs have said.

The Commons defense committee said it was ""deeply concerned"" that some member countries were reluctant to contribute. It said the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was still two battalions short of the requirement set by NATO commanders. The government agreed that challenges in Afghanistan were ""considerably greater"" than some admitted. --------------------------------- 'Exaggerated' NATO's chief spokesman, James Apparthurai, said forces on the ground had nearly all the resources they needed. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: ""We're two battalions short and we'll keep asking for those. ""But I think it's worth pointing out that Afghanistan is a huge country and the idea is not to just keep pouring more troops into it -- that's been done in the past, that's not the way it will work."" In a report, the committee said some NATO members were continuing to impose restrictions on where their troops could operate. While ISAF currently has almost 37,000 troops in Afghanistan, a far larger force -- backed by increased development aid -- was needed to stabilize the country, it added. The report said: ""We remain deeply concerned that the reluctance of some NATO members to provide troops for the ISAF mission is undermining NATO's credibility and also ISAF operations."" James Arbuthnot, the committee's chairman, said NATO countries all had their own national reasons for not giving the same levels of commitment. He added: ""The fear that we have as a result of this is that this deployment itself is at risk of failing, and if this deployment fails then NATO's existence is under threat."" The committee also warned that NATO appeared to be falling behind the Taleban in the ""information campaign"". It warned that ""exaggerated"" claims of enemy casualties risked handing a propaganda weapon to insurgents. Meanwhile, civilian casualties caused by ISAF were undermining support for the NATO mission and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and fuelling the insurgency. The committee said that, while progress had been made in training units of the Afghan National Army working with ISAF, they were still ""some way off operating independently"". -------------------------------- 'Shortfalls' The report said British forces -- predominantly operating in the troubled Helmand province -- still needed more helicopters and that the present level of helicopter operations was ""not sustainable at the present intensity"". Defence Secretary Des Browne welcomed what he described as a balanced report. He added: ""I agree with the committee's assessment that NATO nations should do more to meet the shortfalls in requirements."" But shadow defense secretary Liam Fox said it was ""a severe indictment of the government's handling of the situation in Afghanistan"". Liberal Democrat defense spokesman Nick Harvey said: """"This is an operation that NATO can ill-afford to lose and yet coordination between international actors remains poor.""