NATO Preps Expanded Mission in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) traveled to a NATO summit to discuss the alliance's plans to expand its peacekeeping operation by sending in 3,000 extra troops to provide security for September's key elections.

Karzai is due to address a meeting of the 26 NATO (search) leaders Tuesday in the final session of their two-day summit.

Leaders from two dozen other nations are due to attend — from Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors to traditionally neutral Europeans like Finland and Sweden, both of which plan to send extra troops to help NATO's operation in Afghanistan.

Karzai has long appealed for NATO to expand its force, which currently is limited to 6,500 soldiers in the capital Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz. His government welcomed Monday's decision by the NATO summit.

"We desperately need them to keep security," presidential spokesman Hamed Elmi said in Kabul. "It shows that the world wants to support us and that we are going in the right direction."

The second day of the NATO meeting is also expected to include further discussion of Iraq, where the United States surprised allies Monday by handing over sovereignty to the Iraqi government Monday, two days ahead of schedule.

NATO nations agreed to help train Iraq's armed forces, although differences remained over how they would implement the training plan.

In Afghanistan, NATO will also set up permanent peacekeeping teams in four more northern cities, freeing up the separate, 20,000-strong U.S.-led force pursuing Taliban-led militants to intensify its focus on the troubled south and east.

The agreement follows months of delays as allied nations have been reluctant to provide troops and equipment for the expensive and dangerous mission.

NATO is eager to improve relations with the former Soviet nations who will join the meeting.

Alliance leaders will start the day with a special meeting with Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma (search), where they are expected to back the government's plans to cut the 255,000-strong military by more than two-thirds. However they will warn Kuchma that Ukraine's stated aim of drawing closer to Western institutions will depend on strengthening democracy and human rights.

Later they will talk with leaders from the southern flank of the former Soviet Union, where NATO wants to improve cooperation in tackling terrorism.

"We will put special focus on engaging with our partners in the strategically important regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia," the alliance leaders said in a statement Monday.

They agreed to appoint a special representative to further develop ties with the regions.