U.S. calls on European allies to bolster troops for NATO mission in Afghanistan

The United States called on its European allies Monday to provide more troops to join other NATO nations fighting Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns appealed for restrictions on how and where the soldiers can fight insurgents to be lifted.

"There is a greater need for troops from Europe, for a greater degree of flexibility in how those troops are allowed to operate," Burns told reporters ahead of two days of talks with European Union and NATO officials.

Politicians in the United States, Canada, Britain and other nations with troops in the south have been annoyed by the reluctance of some European allies to commit extra soldiers to the 35,500-strong NATO force, in particular to be deployed to the Taliban's heartland.

"Caveats that limit the tactical deployment of European troops inside the country in our view should be lifted. All states should lift them," Burns said.

He said the United States had a total of around 27,000 troops in Afghanistan at present, and has offered US$11.6 billion (EURO8.74 billion) in new aid for the country.

The 27-nation European Union in February proposed a EURO600 million (US$780 million) package for Afghanistan, to focus on health, justice and rural development over the next four years, and EU nations agreed to set up a police training mission that could be deployed as early as May.

However, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, members of both the EU and NATO, have refused to budge under pressure to send more troops or to move existing forces in Afghanistan to help NATO's spring offensive against the Taliban, reports AP.

Burns said both military might and a strong reconstruction aid plan were key to helping Afghanistan.

"In addition to military operations you really build peace through long-term economic humanitarian work, counter-narcotics work," he said. "So we need to do both and we can do better."

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