Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Turkey Pledges More Noncombat Soldiers for Afghanistan

As Turkey prepares to take control of the regional command at the multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the Ankara government has pledged to send 805 more noncombat troops to the war-torn country, increasing the number of Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan to 1,600. Turkey will take control of NATO's Afghan force in November.

At a joint press conference Aug. 28 in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Turkey had always been an important strategic partner of NATO and thanked Davutoglu for Turkey's support and contributions in Afghanistan.

NATO's only Muslim member, Turkey had objected to Rasmussen's appointment as NATO's secretary-general during the nomination process. Rasmussen, as Danish prime minister, aroused concerns in the Muslim world in 2005 by backing the publication of cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Turkey dropped its objections in April after being assured that Rasmussen would work for reconciliation with the Muslim world and appoint a Turk as his deputy. Rasmussen officially took office early in August.

Davutoglu said Turk-NATO relations were sound and would further develop with Rasmussen undertaking his term in office. Rasmussen called on all NATO member states, including Turkey, to contribute to the mission to train Afghan security forces. He said Afghan security forces need to be strengthened and that the international community should reserve more resources to develop Afghan society.

About 3,500 schools enrolling 7 million children, including 2 million girls, have been built in Afghanistan, while 85 percent of Afghans now can directly use health services, compared with 6 percent in the past, Rasmussen said. Rasmussen arrived in Turkey on Aug. 27 for a two-day visit to discuss the alliance and boost relations with the Muslim world.

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