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NATO To Increase Troop Numbers In Afghanistan

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference during a North Atlantic Council defense ministers meeting in Brussels on November 9.

BRUSSELS -- NATO has announced it will increase the number of troops in Afghanistan from the current 13,000 to 16,000 to aid the Kabul government in its fight against the Taliban.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement on November 9 at the end of a two-day meeting of the alliance's defense ministers in Brussels.

Stoltenberg reiterated that the extra troops would not be involved in combat missions but would be part of NATO's Resolute Support mission, whose aims is to train, advise, and assist the Afghan government forces.

About half of the additional troops are expected to come from the United States, with other NATO allies making up for the remainder.

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

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.

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.

During their first day of meetings on November 8, the alliance's defense ministers endorsed a plan to establish two new military headquarters designed to improve the movement of troops across the Atlantic and within Europe, as the alliance looks to counter the growing threat from Russia.

Speaking after the ministers' first day of meetings in Brussels, Stoltenberg provided initial details on the two new commands, although he said military commanders would "flesh out the details" and present them to defense ministers in February 2018.

It is 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.

In recent years, Russia's military actions in Ukraine have increased concerns about Moscow's intentions in NATO nations, particularly former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact satellites of the Soviet Union.

Russia occupied and seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year.

Aggressive Maneuvers

A series of potentially dangerous close encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes and naval ships in recent months has added to the tension, with the alliance accusing Moscow of aggressive maneuvers in the air and at sea.

Those actions have prompted NATO to step up its defenses in the east, deploying four multinational battlegroups in the three Baltic states and Poland -- totaling approximately 4,500 troops.

One of the planned new NATO command centers will be tasked with ensuring that "sea lines of communication" between North America and Europe "remain free and secure," Stoltenberg said.

The other command will "improve the movement of military forces across Europe" and strengthen logistical functions across NATO.

"This is vital for our transatlantic alliance," Stoltenberg told reporters. "It is about how to move forces across the Atlantic and how to move forces across Europe."

"The adaptation of the NATO command structure will further strengthen our ability to reinforce allies quickly and effectively," he added.

Stoltenberg said any new command must ensure that legislation easing transport of troops and equipment across various national borders is fully implemented.

The secretary-general also said that coordination with the private sector must be in place to guarantee the availability of sufficient transport capacity.

"And we need to improve infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, railways, runways, and ports. So NATO is now updating the military requirements for civilian infrastructure," he added.

Locations To Be Decided

Diplomats said no decisions had been made on locations for the two new command centers, although Germany has expressed interest in hosting the logistics base, arguing its location in Central Europe would make it the strongest candidate.

The diplomats also said Portugal, Spain, France, and the United States could be potential hosts for the new Atlantic sea command.

He said NATO defense ministers also agreed on the creation of a new Cyberoperations Center to strengthen cyberdefenses and help integrate cybercapabilities into NATO planning and operations at all levels.

The move follows a series of global cyberattacks that disrupted multinational firms, ports, and public services this year.

"We must be just as effective in the cyberdomain as we are on land, at sea, and in the air, with real-time understanding of the threats we face and the ability to respond however and whenever we choose," Stoltenberg said.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, dpa, and AP