BRUSSELS -- After months of delay, NATO has ordered hundreds more troops to Afghanistan to help provide security for presidential elections in the fall, but the deployment seemed to fall short of 3,500 troops that were promised.
On Friday, NATO ambassadors approved two more battalions for Afghanistan, one each from Italy and Spain. A battalion has 600 to 1,000 soldiers.
The alliance also cleared an additional 500 or so soldiers to beef up provincial reconstruction teams. Assuming the battalions were large, that still would make only about 2,500 troops.
"We need a little bit more to get to 3,500," said Lieutenant Colonel Ludger Terbrueggen, a spokesman at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium.
Commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the NATO-led force in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said a third battalion would be on standby outside the country.
He said the alliance had yet to decide which countries would aid with the reserve force.
"NATO has not failed in meeting its commitment," he said.
US 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 force in Afghanistan last summer. Now it has 6,500 troops , 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 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 will remain for about two months, NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said in a statement.
Afghanistan's election is planned for Oct. 9.
The NATO troops serve apart from the 20,000-member US-led coalition force, which focuses on tracking down remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, asked NATO leaders at meetings in June to send more soldiers as quickly as possible.