Bush Says More NATO Troops Needed

Thursday, February 15th 2007, 10:30 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Describing a country on the brink, President Bush on Thursday exhorted NATO nations to send additional troops to Afghanistan and allow their soldiers already there to fight in the violent south and under other dangerous circumstances.

``When our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries `We need additional help,' our NATO countries must provide it,'' Bush said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. ``As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make its stand.''

Bush said that listening to his request is not only an obligation nations make as part of NATO, but is also crucial to their own security.

``The alliance was founded on this principle: an attack on one is an attack on all. That principle holds true whether the attack is on the home soil of a NATO nation or on allied forces deployed on a NATO mission abroad,'' he said. ``By standing together in Afghanistan, NATO forces protect their own people.''

The imbalance in Afghanistan has become a sore point among allies.

Troops from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have been doing most of the fighting and leaders of those countries have been lobbying the other 22 allied countries to do more. Countries such as Germany, for instance, don't allow their forces to deploy to the heart of the Taliban insurgency in the south and east.

Fighting in Afghanistan the past year was the bloodiest since the U.S.-led war started in 2001 and toppled the Taliban regime. Commanders anticipate a renewed offensive this spring by Taliban fighters trying to stage a comeback and topple the elected government in Kabul.

Several countries have offered recently to provide additional support to the 35,500-strong NATO force, but it remains to be seen whether coalition commanders will get the troops, equipment and rules of engagement they say they need.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that about 3,000 soldiers who had been scheduled to go to Iraq would be sent to Afghanistan instead. That puts the U.S. presence there at about 27,000 _ the highest of the war _ with 15,000 serving as part of the NATO-led force and another 12,000 special operations forces and trainers.

The president is asking Congress to provide $11.8 billion over the next two years for operations, military and otherwise, in Afghanistan.

Bush said the need for others nations to step up is great as spring comes, bringing an expected new offensive by the Taliban.

``The snow is going to melt in the Hindu Kush mountains and when it does we can expect fierce fighting to continue,'' the president said. ``The Taliban and al Qaida are preparing to launch new attacks. Our strategy is not to be on the defense but to go on the offense. This spring there's going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan and it's going to be a NATO offensive. And that's part of our strategy _ relentless in our pressure. We will not give in.''

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said on Capitol Hill that allies in Europe and the Gulf must step up.

``It is simply unacceptable that NATO commanders are left to beg for troops from countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain,'' he said. ``It is an outrage that only troops from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are deployed to the most hazardous spots. ... No longer should this administration stand passively by while our so-called allies take advantage of American generosity and courage.''

Bush expressed concern about an increase in poppy production in Afghanistan, saying Taliban forces use profits from selling the drug to buy weapons to fight the government. ``This is a direct threat to a free future for Afghanistan,'' the president said.

Bush said he made his concerns clear to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. ``He's got to do something about it, with our help.'' The president also said the United States would help Karzai fight corruption in Afghanistan's judicial system.

``Afghans too often see their courts run by crooked judges,'' Bush said.

Bush said the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan was ``wilder than the wild west'' of America's pioneering days, and that the United States would work with both countries to defeat terrorists.

``A lot of attention here in the United States is on Iraq,'' Bush said. ``One reason I've come to address you is I want to make sure people's attention also is on Afghanistan.''