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Turkey to boost troops in Afghanistan

ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Turkey has pledged to send an additional 805 troops to serve with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The decision will increase the number of Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan to 1,600. They are due to arrive in Kabul in November, when Turkey takes over the rotating command of NATO operations in the Afghan capital. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the decision at a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last week in Ankara.

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Turkey has sent only non-combat troops to Afghanistan; Rasmussen urged Ankara to do even more to help stabilize the war-torn country, for example by sending trainers to help establish Afghanistan's own security forces.

Ahead of his visit to Turkey, Rasmussen told a Turkish newspaper that he would be happy if Ankara sent combat troops to Afghanistan. "It would be met with great satisfaction," he said in an interview with the Milliyet newspaper. Turkish troops fighting the Taliban could help convince other Muslim nations that the operation is "not a religious war but a struggle against terrorism," Rasmussen said. Turkey is NATO's only predominantly Muslim member state.

Just a few months ago, Rasmussen's nomination as NATO head had been in jeopardy because of his role in the Prophet Mohammed cartoon row from 2006.

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Citing press freedom, Rasmussen, then Denmark's prime minister, defended a Danish newspaper's decision to print caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, including one where he was depicted wearing a bomb instead of a turban. The republication of the cartoons in other newspapers sparked worldwide unrest that killed some 50 people. Rasmussen has also spoken out against EU membership for Turkey. Ankara dropped its opposition to Rasmussen only after intense mediation by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Rasmussen has been on an appeasement course with Turkey ever since, and his main goals as NATO's top official include a pledge to intensify "dialogue and cooperation" with the Muslim world.

The secretary-general recently asked all member states to increase their commitments in Afghanistan to improve its unsatisfactory security.

"We have to step up our endeavors militarily as well as in the area of civil reconstruction and in particular, we should further develop the capacity of the Afghan security forces," he said.

The United States has about 62,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. NATO allies have another 35,000 forces. The Pentagon plans to add 6,000 troops by the end of 2009.

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