The United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates was to appeal to NATO allies on Thursday for more troops to defeat a Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, senior US defence officials said.
Gates was to make the appeal in his international diplomatic debut at a NATO defence ministers meeting in Seville devoted to Afghanistan and Kosovo.
"We are saying to the allies all of us need to be prepared to blunt this and defeat it. And now is the time to stand up to the military necessity.
Waiting isn't going to help us," said a senior official traveling with Gates.
"Now's the time to be ready to inflict a defeat on them, the offensive should be our offensive," he said. "That's the philosophy we are communicating to the allies."
Gates will press NATO ministers to make good on promises of support made at a summit of allied leaders last year in Riga.
NATO's supreme commander, US Army General Bantz Craddock, meanwhile, is presenting the allies with a new list of military requirements for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
The officials would not comment on reports from Brussels that Craddock is calling for three more maneuver battalions for the 33,000-strong International Security Assistance Force, which has assumed responsibility for security across Afghanistan.
"It revises what's needed. There some additional things that are needed, there are some old things that are still needed, there are some things that are unneeded," a second defence official said of Craddock's list.
The United States is extending a US combat brigade in Afghanistan for four months, effectively raising US troop levels there by 3,200 from about 21,000.
The officials briefed reporters traveling with Gates on condition that they not be identified.
Although Afghanistan is expected to dominate the security talks, the defence ministers also are expected to take up other issues including Kosovo, US missile defense plans in Europe, and energy security.
NATO ministers will be getting their first look at the successor to Donald Rumsfeld, whose disdain for diplomacy and bruising clashes with major European allies over Iraq divided the alliance.
In a marked contrast to Rumsfeld, Gates will sound a theme of "shared responsibility" both here and at an international security conference in Munich at the weekend, one of the officials said.
As in Afghanistan, Gates will assure allies that the United States will not seek to reduce its 1,600 troop contribution to the NATO-led force in Kosovo as diplomacy over its final status enters its climactic phase.
Rumsfeld had pressed for a drawdown in US forces in Kosovo to free up more troops for Iraq.
But one of the US officials traveling with the secretary said Gates believes "this isn't the time to do something that might be misinterpreted or have unintended consequences."
"We hope to be able to drawdown the US contribution, but I think at this moment given the delicacy of the situation we're not going to do this right now," he said.
Gates is scheduled to meet with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov late in the day on the sidelines of the defence ministers meeting.
The official said their talks were likely to be substantive and could include Kosovo, Russian concerns about US plans for missile defense bases in Europe, and US and allied concerns about Russian use of its energy supplies for political leverage.
Their meeting has a spy versus spy twist. Gates, a former director of the CIA, rose through the ranks of US intelligence as a Soviet analyst while Ivanov worked as a spy for the KGB.
"The secretary has a long professional interest in Russia and I think he's looking forward to meeting his counterpart. So I'm sure he'll have a broad discussion of things," the official said.