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Bush to press NATO to boost troops in Afghanistan

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) President George W Bush plans to urge NATO members to send more troops to contain increasing violence in Afghanistan and remove restrictions on soldiers already there, US officials said.

Bush travels next week to the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, where the rising Taliban insurgency was expected to be a top issue.

NATO has about 31,000 soldiers in Afghanistan but some member nations have placed restrictions on what they may do, upsetting the United States, Britain and Canada, who complain their soldiers are doing most of the fighting in places like violent southern Afghanistan.

''If NATO is to be successful and to continue to complete this mission, obviously it will need enough troops and the right kinds of troops to be able to do the mission and it will need troops in the right places,'' said Judy Ansley, an official with the White House National Security Council.

''You can expect that there will be a discussion about the need for some flexibility in where troops are, for an increase in the number of troops, maybe a decrease in some of the restrictions on troops that are currently there,'' Ansley added.

Fighting in Afghanistan this year has been the worst since US and British-led forces ousted the Islamist Taliban five years ago after the Sept. 11 attacks. The hard-line Taliban was harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

NATO's top commander said in October the alliance did not have enough soldiers in Afghanistan to secure a victory over Taliban fighters in the coming months. In the short-term, NATO is looking for another 1,500 soldiers.

Army Lt Gen Karl Eikenberry declined to predict if the United States would eventually have to expand its own force of 23,000 troops in Afghanistan to deal with the resurgent Taliban.

''I think it will be best at this point to wait and see what NATO is able to provide,'' he said at a news briefing with the visiting Afghan defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Some NATO countries have so-called caveats for their troops, such as not allowing them to operate at night or banning some from fighting altogether.

Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that amounts to having the troops controlled by defense ministries in the home countries, rather than by NATO commanders.

''What that essentially means is that if the commander decides to redeploy troops to meet an emergency, he cannot do so quickly,'' Burns said.

Burns said the president would seek an arrangement for NATO to increase its ties with five non-member countries -- Japan, Australia, South Korea, Finland and Sweden.

Burns said the ''global partnership'' Bush is seeking at the November. 28-29 summit would involve having the five countries have more training sessions and meetings with NATO. They would not be asked to become full members of the alliance.

REUTERS DKS PM0642

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