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Bush pushes NATO for more troops in Kabul

Bush is requesting $11.8 billion from Congress for construction projects in Afghanistan and to assist the build-up of the country's security force.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 13:02 IST

The United States President George W Bush criticised NATO allies for placing rules on the use of troops in Afghanistan, warning they limit the ability of the alliance's commanders to successfully fight against the resurgent Taliban.

Several NATO countries - Britain, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands - have been fighting alongside US forces under NATO command in southern Afghanistan, but the alliance wants more soldiers in anticipation of a spring offensive by the resurgent Taliban.

German and French troops are among the 34,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan, but their governments restrict them to peacekeeping missions in relatively safe areas of the country.

"When our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries 'we need additional help' our NATO countries must provide it in order to be successful in this mission," Bush said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute here on Thursday.

"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 a stand," he added.

The unwillingness of key NATO partners to deploy more troops to southern Afghanistan has caused some friction in the alliance.

NATO defence ministers met in Seville, Spain, last week and some countries pledged more military assistance.

Germany, however, has remained steadfast in its refusal to deploy soldiers in southern Afghanistan.

Before the NATO gathering, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved the use of Tornado fighter jets in southern Afghanistan to gather intelligence and provide targeting coordinates, but strict rules prevent their pilots from carrying out airstrikes.

Canada's government is under increasing pressure to consider withdrawal after the Canadian Senate's committee on national security and defence released a report earlier this week urging a pullout.

Canada, with 2,500 troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan, has lost 44 soldiers and one diplomat since the mission began.

NATO turned back a major Taliban offensive in 2006 that marked the deadliest fighting in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

NATO commanders expect another big Taliban assault after winter.

Bush said he was sending an additional 3,200 US soldiers to keep the US level there at about 27,000.

"Our strategy is not to be on the defence, but to go on the offence," Bush said.

"This spring there is going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan, and it's going to be a NATO offensive."

Pointing to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush said NATO was founded on the premise "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," Bush said.

The US was also working to increase the size of Afghan security forces by 40,000 by the end of 2008.

Bush is requesting $11.8 billion from Congress for construction projects in Afghanistan and to assist the build-up of the country's security force.