NATO military chief believes Afghan tide has turned

BRUSSELS Wed Jan 27, 2010 4:08pm GMT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Wednesday it had secured new pledges of support for its Afghan operation, and its top military officer said he believed international solidarity meant the tide had turned in the struggle against the Taliban.

"The mood has changed, the tide has changed: we will succeed, we are convinced we will succeed," Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola said after a meeting of all countries contributing to the NATO-led military effort in Afghanistan.

"We will see at the end of this year the light on the horizon," he told a news conference a day before political and military leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, gather in London for a one-day conference on Afghanistan.

In a further positive move, Russia's military chief, General Nikolai Makarov, held talks with NATO military leaders for the first time since the 2008 Georgia war, and promised more support for operations in Afghanistan, Di Paola said.

"We have agreed a number of areas of cooperation ... certainly Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism, is one of them," Di Paola said, adding that the two sides would discuss a plan for expanded cooperation in May.

Di Paola said Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who took part in the Brussels talks, had been "incredibly in tune" with the approach advocated by the NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal.

"There was a feeling in the room that we are getting it right," he said, adding that Thursday's conference should produce better coordination on operations in Afghanistan and lead to the Afghans taking more charge of security.

"The determination, commitment of all countries, the international community ... fundamentally to have a positive outcome from the international engagement in Afghanistan, that will become a reality," Di Paola said.

KAZAKH TRANSIT DEAL

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier that he had finalized a deal with Kazakhstan on transit to Afghanistan, which should help the alliance reduce reliance on a route through Pakistan that is often attacked by the Taliban.

The deal should allow NATO to implement an existing agreement with Russia for the transit of non-lethal supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, which the alliance hopes to expand.

NATO would also like to see Russia providing more helicopters for the Afghan armed forces, as well as weaponry, including assault rifles and artillery.

Russia has said it will do all it can to help NATO in Afghanistan, short of sending troops to a country from which Soviet forces were forced to withdraw in 1989 after an unsuccessful 10-year war against mujahideen insurgents.

Rasmussen welcomed Germany's plan to send up to 850 more soldiers to the 110,000-strong international force in Afghanistan and what he called "a very substantial contribution" to NATO's training mission for Afghan security forces.

He also thanked Romania for providing 600 more soldiers and said further contributions were likely in the coming days.

"Taken together, the announcement of new forces and a new supply route helps to further strengthen the NATO-ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)," he said.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)