Bush demands help from Nato in Afghanistan and boosts US troops

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The Independent US

Announcing a 3,200-troop boost in US forces in Afghanistan, George Bush bluntly warned Nato allies yesterday they must step up their commitment to the war there, ahead of an expected major Taliban offensive when the weather improves in spring.

Returning to the subject of the country which saw the first US military offensive after the 9/11 attacks, Mr Bush declared it was vital that Nato commanders had the wherewithal "to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make its stand". And "when [those commanders] said, 'we need additional help', our Nato countries must provide it".

In his speech, at the neoconservative stronghold of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, President Bush was clearly taking aim at the likes of Germany, which does not allow its troops to take the field in the south and east of the country, where Taliban forces are strongest. Nato forces "must have the flexibility and rules of engagement to be able to do their job," he said.

The latest troop increase will boost total US strength in Afghanistan to 27,000, the highest level since the 2001 invasion. Of that number, 15,000 will be deployed as part of the Nato force, with the remainder operating as special forces or as trainers of an Afghan army due to be boosted from the current 32,000 to 70,000 by the end of 2008.

Last year saw the fiercest fighting since 2001, and Mr Bush suggested that 2007 could see even more intense combat, whose outcome could determine the country's fate. "We face a thinking enemy and a tough enemy," he said. "And in 2006, this enemy struck back with vengeance."

Apart from more military assistance to the government of President Hamid Karzai and increased economic aid, Mr Bush also promised a blitz on opium cultivation. The Taliban uses drug money to buy weapons, he warned, and "they pay Afghans to take up arms against the government".

A third prong of US strategy is to boost the reluctant partnership between Mr Karzai and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, to gain a grip on the remote tribal border region of the two countries - an area Mr Bush described as "wilder than the Wild West."

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