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NATO chief warns Afghans may switch allegiance to Taliban

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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said Sunday he "would understand" if many Afghans switched their allegiance back to the Taliban due to the failure of international forces to deliver needed improvements.

Speaking a day after the fifth anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war that toppled the Taliban regime, British Gen. David Richards, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, also repeated his call for more troops.

"By this time next year I would understand if a lot of Afghans, down in the south in particular, said to us all, 'Listen, you're failing year after year at delivering the improvements which you have promised to us. And if you don't do something about it,' that 70 percent or so will start saying, 'Come on, we'd rather have the Taliban.'"

The Taliban imposed strict Islamic law on Afghanistan after it came to power in 1996. Human rights groups worldwide accused the Taliban of cruelty and depriving citizens of human rights and religious freedoms. The regime also sheltered al Qaeda's leadership, including Osama bin Laden.

Since ousting the Taliban, U.S. and international forces have faced complaints that badly needed basic services are not being provided to large parts of Afghanistan. Soldiers have continued to battle insurgents, including remnants of the Taliban.

U.S. forces have helped build the new Afghan military and steadily hand over power authority to NATO forces. Last week, authority in the east was transferred from the U.S.-led coalition to ISAF at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul.

ISAF has more than 30,000 troops serving in Afghanistan, more than a third of them U.S. forces.

Richards said NATO needs more troops "because we need to now exploit the advantages -- the more favorable situation we are in the process of achieving ... Everyone is aware I've asked for this reserve force."

"We're at a tipping point," he added. With greater effort and more financial flexibility "next year could be much better," he said.

Soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force patrol Kabul, Afghanistan.



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