BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – After months of delay, NATO has ordered hundreds more peacekeepers to Afghanistan to help provide security during presidential elections, but the deployment still appeared to fall short of 3,500 troops that were promised.

NATO ambassadors meeting late Friday approved two more battalions for Afghanistan, one each from Italy and Spain. A battalion has between 600 and 1,000 soldiers.

The alliance also cleared another 500 or so troops to beef up provincial reconstruction teams. Assuming the battalions were large, that would still make only about 2,500 troops.

“We need a little bit more to get to 3,500,” said Lt. Col. Ludger Terbrueggen, spokesman at NATO’s military headquarters in southern Belgium.

Cdr. Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said a third battalion would be on standby as part of a reserve contingent outside the country. He said the alliance had yet to decide which countries would supply the reserve force but insisted “NATO has not failed in meeting its commitment.”

U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns called the reinforcements “a significant step in the efforts of the international community to help the Afghan people.”

NATO took command of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan last summer. It currently has some 6,500 troops there, about half from Germany and Canada.

In October the alliance agreed to expand the force. But apart from Germany, which sent 240 soldiers to the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, NATO had been unable to persuade governments to provide needed troops.

The delay has cast doubt on the alliance’s credibility as it seeks to reinvent itself as a global security force in the post-Cold War era.

The troops from Italy and Spain will arrive in Afghanistan by September and remain for about two months, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement. The election is planned for Oct. 9.

De Hoop Scheffer would likely work the phones over the next few days to raise more troops, Terbrueggen said.

The NATO troops serve apart from the 20,000-strong U.S.-led coalition force, which focuses on tracking down remnants of al-Qaida and the deposed Taliban government, mostly in the border area with Pakistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded with NATO leaders at their June summit to send more soldiers as quickly as possible.

Violence in Afghanistan this year has killed more than 600 people, including soldiers, international workers and civilians.

The allies committed themselves to increase troop levels to 10,000, but still struggled to come up with the soldiers.

France and other NATO members objected to an American proposal that NATO’s elite new response force be deployed, arguing it should be saved for emergencies, not peacekeeping.

The NATO statement said the Italian battalion is “an element” of the rapid response force and will act as a reserve for the Spanish, who will provide a “quick reaction force.”

They will probably be based in the capital, Kabul, but able to dash around the country to help out.

Spain pledged to increase its contingent in Afghanistan to 1,000, from about 140, after pulling its forces out of Iraq in April.

Germany, with 1,909 troops in Afghanistan, and Canada, with 1,576, are by far the most generous of the NATO contributors. France ranks next with 565. The remaining 23 NATO countries, plus 11 outside NATO, have pitched in about 2,500 combined.

De Hoop Scheffer said Afghan authorities will “retain primary responsibility” for security.

AP-ES-07-24-04 1413EDT

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