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NATO wants to double Afghan forces Add to ...

NATO called on Thursday for a doubling of the size of Afghan security forces to about 400,000 personnel to allow them to take over security from Western troops who hope eventually to withdraw.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was premature to present any timetable for the task but NATO should aim gradually to transfer the main responsibility for security to Afghans.

He also said during a visit to Iceland that Afghanistan's presidential election on Thursday had been a success from a security point of view.

"We should aim at building up the Afghan security forces to a level around 400,000 in the army and the police altogether," Mr. Rasmussen said.

"It will of course take some efforts to reach that level and also ensure the necessary capability and quality of the Afghan security forces," he said.

Mr. Rasmussen said it remained vital for Western security to prevent Afghanistan being a haven for terrorists and to increase military and civil reconstruction efforts.

"We should develop the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so they can take care of their own security," he said.

The performance of the roughly 180,000 Afghan soldiers and uniformed police is patchy and they often cannot work independently, requiring the presence of a big foreign force in the country to combat Taliban insurgents.

NATO officials have previously set a target of boosting the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2010.

U.S. officials have said defence and military officers have been examining the possibility of increasing the Afghan army and police to 400,000 personnel, including 270,000 soldiers.

Mr. Rasmussen has sought an increase in Western troops serving under NATO command in Afghanistan from 64,500 and called for a big NATO effort to train Afghan forces.

NATO hopes that creating Afghan security forces capable of taking responsibility for security across the country will allow for the eventual withdrawal of alliance troops.

In a statement after voting ended, Mr. Rasmussen said that from a security point a view the election - the first organized by Afghans in 30 years - had been a success, "not least due to the efforts of the Afghan national security forces".

"They have done everything possible to make these elections as secure and as inclusive as possible. They should be applauded," he said. "All in all the elections today have been conducted effectively."

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