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Nato allies divided on how to tackle growing Afghan crisis

The growing crisis in Afghanistan is expected to come into the open this week as Nato allies argue over troop reinforcements and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visits London to seek a new UN "super-envoy", after Kabul rejected the choice of Lord Ashdown.

A spate of reports in the past week has warned that Afghanistan risks becoming a "failed state" and that there will be a "humanitarian disaster" unless aid and military efforts are better co-ordinated.

Not only are there public disagreements in Nato over military strategy, but Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is ever more reluctant to co-operate with certain Western nations.

Britain is smarting after Mr Karzai vetoed Lord Ashdown's appointment and criticised the performance of UK troops in Helmand.

Remarks by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, who said other Nato members were less skilled in counter-insurgency, caused fury in Britain and Canada, which is threatening to pull out its troops if reinforcements are not provided.

A demand by Mr Gates that Germany should move troops to the combat zone in southern Afghanistan was leaked last week, causing another furore.

The divisions are likely to be further exposed at a meeting of Nato defence ministers later this week in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and are unlikely to be resolved ahead of the Nato summit in Romania in April.

While agreeing that the military effort needs to be part of an overall political and development strategy, many Nato members believe US policy remains over-reliant on the use of force. "There is still a transatlantic divide about what should be done and the means to do it," said Paul Smyth, of the Royal United Services Institute.

"There are not going to be more troops in Afghanistan: commanders will have to work out how to do more with the forces they have," he said.