"Pentagon is happy with Belgium"

The Belgian Defence Minister Pieter de Crem (Flemish Christian democrat) has said that he wants the Belgian government to take a decision on Belgium's contribution to the war in Afghanistan by the end of January. Mr De Crem was speaking after a meeting with the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Washington.

The Belgian Defence Minister was Mr Gates's guest at the Pentagon. A spokesman for Mr De Crem said that the talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere.

The war in Afghanistan was one of the main items on the agenda. The US is sending 30,000 extra troops to this central Asian country and is counting on support from its NATO allies in the fight against the Taliban.

Belgium currently has 600 troops stationed in the country. Most are deployed in the defence of Kabul Airport. Belgium also has an F-16 fighter jet unit in Kandahar and a reconstruction team in Kunduz.

Commitments have been made until 2010.

The US expects Belgium to extend its commitment in time.

Mr De Crem now wants the Belgian government to take a decision before the end of next January.

The Belgian Defence Minister was Mr Gates's guest at the Pentagon. A spokesman for Mr De Crem said that the talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere.

The war in Afghanistan was one of the main items on the agenda. The US is sending 30,000 extra troops to this central Asian country and is counting on support from its NATO allies in the fight against the Taliban.

Belgium currently has 600 troops stationed in the country. Most are deployed in the defence of Kabul Airport. Belgium also has an F-16 fighter jet unit in Kandahar and a reconstruction team in Kunduz.

Commitments have been made until 2010.

The US expects Belgium to extend its commitment in time.

Mr De Crem now wants the Belgian government to take a decision before the end of next January.

Commemorating the Battle of the Bulge

On 28 January Britain's Gordon Brown will host a major international conference on Afghanistan.

The Belgian decision to extend its commitment in the country will depend on progress at this meeting.

Mr De Crem told the VRT: "The Pentagon is happy with Belgium's contribution because it is doing substantial work.

Earlier in the month Belgium decided to send three extra police officers and a magistrate to Afghanistan. In January a second team of military instructors is being dispatched.

The Belgian Defence Minister's visit forms part of commemorations marking the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in the woodlands of the Ardennes.

The battle put an end to the last major counteroffensive by Nazi Germany in the final stages of the Second World War.