Afghanistan

Afghanistan to remain NATO's top priority: NATO envoy

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KABUL, Aug 4, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- NATO will continue to remain committed to stabilizing peace and security in Afghanistan, the organization's envoy to the post-war country announced here Thursday.

"Let me underline once again that Afghanistan will remain NATO' s top priority. NATO will be here to assist Afghans accordingly in the post-election environment," NATO Senior Civilian Representative Hikmet Cetin said at a ceremony marking the change of command of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF).

Counting NATO's missions here, the Turkish veteran diplomat said that besides supporting upcoming Afghan legislative polls, the multinational force would also assist Afghan government in achieving its vital goals such as reconstruction, good governance and recovery.

"NATO/ISAF will be here to assist Afghans, accordingly, in the post-election environment. Afghanistan is still a post conflict country and security, governance and reconstruction are interdependent," Cetin said.

The organization has already begun deploying troops in Afghanistan ahead of the Sept. 18 landmark elections.

To further boost NATO's presence in Afghanistan, he disclosed that the military pact would expand forward to the insurgency- plagued southern provinces.

"The stage 3 expansion would cover Nimroz, Helmand, Uruzgan, Dai Kundi and Zabul provinces," he said.

NATO, which assumed the leadership of ISAF in August 2003, has been expanded in nearly half of the post-Taliban nation including capital Kabul, north and western provinces, while the third phase would cover the restive southern region, the birthplace of Taliban where hundreds of the militants have been holed up to conduct insurgency.

Later, at the ceremony attended by President Hamid Karzai and Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum General Gerhard W. Back,the newly appointed Italian commander Lieutenant General Mauro Del Vecchio took over the command of over 10,000- strong ISAF troops from Turkish General Ethem Erdagi.