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NATO Defense Ministers To Discuss Afghanistan, Command Structure

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

BRUSSELS -- NATO defense ministers have gathered in Brussels to discuss strengthening the alliance's mission in Afghanistan and revamping its command structure in response to Russian threats.

A day before the November 8-9 meetings, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the organization plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan from the current 13,000 to 16,000.

He said that the troops would not have combat roles but would be part of NATO's "train, advise, and assist" mission, Resolute Support, and that about half of the additional troops would come from the United States.

Arriving at alliance headquarters on November 8, Stoltenberg said that Afghan forces are making progress and are denying the Taliban their "strategic goals," despite a "volatile" security environment.

"Tomorrow, we will meet our Resolute Support partners to discuss our mission in Afghanistan," Stoltenberg said.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August announced a new Afghan strategy. In September, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan.

"The United States is already deploying more troops, and many other allies and partners are making additional commitments to continue to strengthen the Afghan forces so that they can fight international terrorists. And pave the way for a lasting political solution," Stoltenberg said.

The United States led an invasion to drive Taliban extremists from power after Al-Qaeda militants whose leaders were sheltering in Afghanistan carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Militant Resurgence

The United States, NATO, and other partners had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan for a time, but the Taliban has been resurgent since NATO ended combat operations in 2014. The extremist group Islamic State (IS) has also stepped up attacks.

The defense ministers' meeting is also set to agree on a new plan to improve the way the alliance commands and deploys its forces, Stoltenberg said.

The alliance needs a command structure to ensure "we have the right forces, in the right place, with the right equipment at the right time," he said.

The meeting will endorse a plan to create two new commands -- one to protect sea lanes ferrying troops and equipment across the Atlantic, the other for land forces in Europe.

It's the first time the 29-member alliance is expanding its command structure since the end of the Cold War, when 22,000 personnel were working at 33 commands. Numbers have been slashed since to fewer than 7,000 people and seven commands.

North Korea's nulcear ambitions will also be on the agenda.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, dpa, and AP