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NATO Melts in Afghanistan

Liberated from the Taliban two years ago, the people of Afghanistan hope to adopt a constitution this month and hold elections next summer. If they're smart, their leaders will also liberate Afghan women by clearly ensuring them equal rights. But such hopes may be for naught if NATO, which agreed in October to secure this Central Asia nation, doesn't quickly deploy forces to the unruly countryside.

Losing Afghanistan to rule by warlords or even a Taliban II would seriously undercut the reputation of the 19-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization as it makes its first military venture outside Europe. While it helped win the cold war, NATO risks losing to Afghanistan's tribal chieftains by default.

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Since the alliance is the one multilateral organization the Bush administration actually embraces strongly, its European members shouldn't hold back from providing military resources to make Afghanistan safe for democracy, helping ensure that the United States remains engaged in Europe through NATO.

Since August, NATO has had more than 5,000 peacekeeping troops in the capital, Kabul, while some 11,000 American troops mop up remnants of the Taliban and search for Al Qaeda leaders. The US needs its forces in Iraq and wants Europe to create a larger military presence in Afghanistan, especially as Taliban forces appear to be sabotaging aid and election work.

While some European nations made fresh commitments for equipment this week, others appear more eager to create a new Europe-only military alliance to compete with NATO than they are to provide the necessary helicopters, vehicles, and forces to expand to the Afghan provinces.

Such foot-dragging bodes ill for the US efforts to bring NATO into Iraq. Without increased European help in the war on terrorism, the US will need to look more to itself.