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									NATO mulls paying for Afghan forces after 2014

Brussels: NATO's top official said on Friday that the alliance expects
regional powers to contribute to a multibillion dollar fund to finance
the Afghan army and police after they assume full responsibility for the
war in 2014.

Since Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest nations cannot foot the
estimated $ 6 billion annual bill, NATO nations will have to pay the bulk
of it.

But austerity measures and budgetary cuts caused by the financial crisis
in the United States and Europe are making it difficult to raise the
money within the alliance.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was appealing to the entire international
community to help finance the force.

Asked whether he was specifically referring to China, India and Russia,
he replied, "It's a call on the whole of the international community to
contribute to financing the Afghan security forces because I think it is
also in the interest of countries in the region to see a stable and
secure Afghanistan."

"So my call on the international community also includes countries in the
region," he said.

Fogh Rasmussen said defence ministers had also discussed the "sustainable
size" of the future Afghan army and police, but that a final decision
will be left to the NATO summit in Chicago next May.

The two-day meeting in Brussels of ministers from NATO's 28 nations and
22 other countries taking part in the war in Afghanistan is meant to pave
the way for the Chicago summit.

The Afghan army and police are scheduled to grow to more than 350,000
members by 2014. But some have projected that the force can be safely
reduced in order to reduce its costs.

"A reasonable number would be 230,000," French Defence Minister Gerard
Longuet said after the meeting. The Taliban insurgents are estimated to
have about 20,000 armed men.

A related unresolved question that also will be taken up in Chicago is
the number of US and other foreign troops that might remain behind and
what missions they would be assigned.

The debate on the costs of the Afghan security forces came after NATO
allies agreed broadly on Thursday to step back from the lead combat role
in Afghanistan and let local forces take their place as early as next
year, a shortened timetable that startled officials and members of the US

Longuet said Paris would start drawing down its 3,600-strong contingent
in March, and expects the withdrawal to be completed by mid-2013.

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