US sets conditions for talks with Taliban; NATO Defence Ministers meet in Istanbul; Karzai government contemplating introducing conscription to increase armed forces strength; Obama seeks $113 billion for US military operations in Afghanistan for 2011;
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  • US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, addressing a press conference on February 1, stated that insurgents must end ties with al-Qaeda, lay down weapons and accept the Afghan constitution before the US can accept talks with the Taliban. Stating that the US was ready to play its role in the Afghan-led reconciliation process, he added that efforts were in place to bring local Taliban commanders into the mainstream.1

    NATO Defence Ministers meanwhile held a meeting in Istanbul from February 4-5. NATO ministers were meeting for the first time after President Obama announced his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops. Other countries have agreed to provide an additional 10,000 troops, which would push force levels over 140,000.2

    President Karzai at the Munich security conference stated that his government was considering introducing conscription in order to increase the strength of the Afghan Army and police force to 300,000 by 2012 to ensure security without international help.3

    President Obama meanwhile sought about $113 billion for US military operations in Afghanistan for the fiscal year 2011 beginning October 2010. This represents an increase of $11 billion over the 2010 figure of $102 billion.4

    The UN Security Council welcomed the decisions made at the London conference on Afghanistan and noted that the conference set a clear agenda and agreed priorities on Security, Governance and Economic Development, and Regional Co-operation/International Architecture.5

    Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar Speaking told the visiting UK Naval Chief Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope that Pakistan was strongly against any Indian role in Afghanistan and added that his country was seriously concerned at growing Indian influence there.6 Pakistan army chief Gen. Kiyani meeting foreign journalists in Rawalpindi meanwhile stated that Pakistan wanted a "peaceful, stable and friendly" Afghanistan which would guarantee Pakistan "strategic depth".7

    In other developments, reports noted that 32 Taliban militants were killed in a joint operation by Afghan and the NATO-led forces in Helmand province. Three Afghan soldiers lost their lives.8