French defense minister urges to expand role for NATO troops

France 's defense minister called Tuesday for NATO's powers to be expanded to allow alliance forces in Afghanistan to take a more active role in the fight against terrorism. "We need to be in a position where we are able to prevent and eventually to combat terrorists and terrorist groups wherever they are hiding, wherever they are training," Michele Alliot-Marie said at the closing session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly.

NATO's "operational capabilities must be enhanced," she said, pointing to a recent surge in Taliban activities in Afghanistan and the country's flourishing drug trade and warning that Afghanistan would continue to pose a security threat to all NATO member states until those problems are resolved. NATO forces in Afghanistan are preparing to take over security operations from the U.S.-led coalition there this summer.

NATO troops
NATO troops

Speaking at the close of the five-day assembly, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Afghanistan remains the organization's "No. 1 priority" and said the deployment there was "vital for the people of Afghanistan and for NATO."

De Hoop Scheffer also said he expected a new NATO force, specialized in high-intensity combat, will be fully operational before next year. The NATO Response Force will have more than 20,000 troops in land, air and marine units ready to move within days to tackle missions ranging from full-blown conflicts to humanitarian relief.

De Hoop Scheffer said discussions with potential member states were moving ahead, though he added NATO would not extend formal invitations to hopefuls Georgia and Azerbaijan at the organization's next meeting in November. The presidents of both countries attended Tuesday's meeting, reports the AP.


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