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Larger NATO Force Needed in Afghanistan
Agence France-Presse  |  November 30, 2007
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan do not have the means to secure the country in the face of a barrage of insurgent attacks, a senior French general with the force has warned.

"The 41,OOO soldiers in ISAF are largely insufficient to ensure security," said Brigadier General Vincent Lafontaine, the chief of planning for the International Security Assistance Force deployed here under a UN mandate.

"That does not mean we are going to lose this operation, but it is going to take a lot longer for us to finish the job," Lafontaine told visiting journalists this week at ISAF headquarters in the Afghan capital.

The officer -- one of the most senior in France's 1,070-strong contingent here -- also expressed concern about the chronic shortage of transport helicopters used to move soldiers and supplies around the war-ravaged country.

The United States provides most of the helicopters, but is due to start pulling them out in early 2008.

Lafontaine said as a result, top-level NATO officials were now mulling the possibility of outsourcing logistics tasks to private helicopter companies.

NATO has long called for the 38 nations involved in ISAF to contribute more to beat the intensifying conflict.

But the high cost of the operation here -- both financial and personal, with more than 210 international soldiers killed this year alone -- has made it unpopular in several countries.

Lafontaine insisted the NATO-led force had "scored some points and put pressure" on the Taliban-led insurgents, crippling their ability to stage mass attacks involving hundreds of fighters like they did a year ago.

The extremists now were forced to resort to suicide attacks, kidnappings and roadside bombs to target convoys of Afghan and international security forces.

The number of such attacks had multiplied in recent months in and around Kabul, which had largely been spared the near-daily violence seen in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

The militants have vowed to spread their campaign of violence to the north. Indeed, the country's worst-ever suicide attack took place in northern Baghlan province on November 6, killing nearly 80 people.

An ISAF spokesman, Portuguese Brigadier General Carlos Branco, said the increased number of suicide bombings were a sign of the Taliban's "weakness".

The Taliban "do not have any real success on the ground," Branco said of the group which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and is now blamed for most of the 130 suicide attacks here this year.

The spokesman said the militants were "unable to take their insurgency to the next level" and so had resorted to "terrorism", the use of propaganda and outright lying about the results of their actions out of desperation.

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