Nato expands Afghan peacekeeping force

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Western efforts to wrest Afghanistan from the control of warlords and drug producers were boosted yesterday when Nato announced an expansion of peacekeeping into the west of the country.

The move, announced at a meeting of the alliance's defence ministers in Nice yesterday, ends months of haggling over the allocation of troops needed to bring about 50 per cent of the country under the cover of the peacekeepers.

The Nato secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said that 900 troops would deploy to Herat and three other Western cities, including 500 fresh troops and 400 from elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Nato now operates only in Kabul and the north, with 8,400 troops, but Nato defence ministers hope to bring 75 per cent of Afghanistan under their control by the end of the year.

Nato also wants to integrate peacekeeping forces with a separate, US-led mission fighting the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

The need for a stronger Nato grip on the country was underlined by a UN report last year. It set out the extent to which narcotics now dominate the economy of Afghanistan.

The agreement yesterday was also being hailed as evidence of better transatlantic co-operation following the bitter rift over the Iraq war.