Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed the offers by NATO alliance countries to send more peacekeepers in the coming months.

The expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is "very, very important for the improvement of reconstruction activity of Afghanistan and also for better  security", Karzai said.

"So we value whatever decision they take in this regard," he told reporters.

Pressure has been growing on NATO member states to contribute more soldiers to expand peacekeeping work of the ISAF stationed in Kabul.

"ISAF and NATO, and this is a key point, will stay as long as the Afghan people want us to stay," Major-General Andrew Leslie, ISAF's deputy commander, said on Friday.

"How long is NATO willing to stay? Somewhere between five to 10 years, or even as long as it takes," he said.

NATO took over command of ISAF's soldiers last year.

Extended peacekeeping

ISAF for the time being polices Kabul, but plans to restore order outside the capital are tied to the setting up of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, whose soldiers will carry out small development projects or protect aid workers.

"We are not here to pacify, we are not here to occupy. We are here to help people of Afghanistan and provide a safe haven for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams to do the real work"

Major-General Andrew Leslie,
Deputy commander, ISAF

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is meeting defence ministers of NATO's 26 current and future members to try to convince them to commit more troops.

Leslie said the number of ISAF troops could grow between 8000 to 12,000.

"We are not here to pacify, we are not here to occupy. We are here to help people of Afghanistan and provide a safe haven for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams to do the real work," he said.

The 6100-strong ISAF force is currently confined to Kabul and the northern city of Kunduz.

The opertion is run separately from the 11,000 mainly US soldiers pursuing Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents in the troubled south and east.