November 19, 2009 / 12:32 PM / 10 years ago

NATO must not walk away from Afghanistan - Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds his first news conference as NATO Secretary-General at the alliance headquarters in Brussels in this August 3, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday the alliance must not turn its back on Afghanistan as this would raise the threat from al-Qaeda and lead to insecurity throughout central Asia.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if we were to walk away and turn our backs on Afghanistan al-Qaeda would be right back,” Rasmussen told a conference in Budapest.

“And if we were to walk away, just imagine the pressure on nuclear-armed Pakistan and the way instability would spread like wildfire through central Asia.”

Rasmussen said that, although the cost of the NATO operation in Afghanistan might appear high, the cost of walking away would be far higher.

NATO wants more troops to be sent to Afghanistan to step up training of Afghan forces so they can take over responsibility for security, a process NATO hopes to start in some areas next year.

Rasmussen said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was sworn in on Thursday for a second five-year term, should use his new mandate to pursue reforms and fight corruption.

“Today in Kabul President Karzai is being inaugurated. I have urged him and his new government to use the new mandate to demonstrate strong and clear commitment to reform,” Rasmussen said.

Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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