"NATO is meeting its commitments to provide increased security, to support the Afghan government, to support the upcoming elections," an official said at a meeting on Wednesday of alliance leaders in Istanbul.

   

He said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer would deliver that message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who left for Istanbul on Monday after a new round of bloody attacks in his country.

   

NATO has been criticised by non-governmental groups for not expanding its mission more aggressively. Human Rights Watch charged ahead of the summit that alliance "foot-dragging" had exacerbated violence and stalled the country's reconstruction.

   

Annan warning

 

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also warned that the crucial polls could be postponed if security does not improve.

   

"We will augment these numbers...to reach approximately 10,000 troops in theatre during the election period"

unnamed official,
NATO meet, Istanbul

But NATO sought to paint a rosy picture of its drive to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Kabul, despite member reluctance to offer costly resources such as transport planes, helicopters and medical facilities.

   

"Today NATO's presence amounts to 6500 troops," the official said. "We will augment these numbers...to reach approximately 10,000 troops in theatre during the election period."

   

There were no details on which countries would offer the additional forces.

   

In addition to the extra troops for the elections, ISAF will extend its stabilising influence into northern provinces by taking command of four military-civilian reconstruction teams, the official said.

   

ISAF already operates one Provincial Reconstruction Team in the northern town of Kunduz.

   

It will set up and take command of three others and take over one existing team in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif.