U.S. Seeks More Troops for Afghanistan

BUCHAREST, Romania -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged NATO allies on Wednesday to send more troops to Afghanistan, but France played down expectations it would tell a NATO summit that it will deploy 1,000 extra soldiers.

Bush said NATO could not afford to lose its battle against Taliban insurgents and al-Qaida militants and recalled that France had indicated it could boost its 1,500-member force.

"Whatever the cost, however difficult, we cannot afford it, we must win. I agree completely," he said. "We ask other NATO nations to step forward with additional forces as well."

Bush, appearing later with Romanian President Traian Basescu at a news conference on a wind-whipped Black Sea beach, said: "We expect our NATO allies to shoulder the burden necessary to succeed. ... The question nations have to ask, is, is it worth it? My answer is absolutely it's worth it."

White House officials are hoping for a wave of additional commitments to Afghanistan during the three-day NATO summit that begins Wednesday night in Bucharest, the Romanian capital. NATO allies want the summit to send the message that the defense alliance's 47,000-member force will stay in Afghanistan for as long as necessary to fight the insurgency.

Diplomats had hoped that President Nicolas Sarkozy would tell the summit that France would make a major new contribution in Afghanistan as part of a revamp of the NATO peacekeeping force in the east and south.

But French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that Paris was looking to send just several hundred more troops to Afghanistan.

That was short of the 1,000 extra soldiers some NATO allies had expected, and it was not clear whether it would be enough to cover a Canadian demand for reinforcements in the south.

Ottawa has said it could pull its 2,500 troops out of the fight next year if the reinforcements were not forthcoming.

Speaking at a presummit event in Bucharest, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged that Sarkozy had made no commitment to NATO on how many troops would be sent.

But he said, "I am convinced that we will achieve our objectives and achieve it in a way that causes our overall troop commitment to be increased, not merely shifted laterally."

Sitting next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Harper said he believed that Afghanistan's fledgling army would by 2011 be able to take over leadership of military operations in the violent southern province overseen by the Canadians.

Karzai said most Afghans wanted NATO troops to stay and that he was increasingly optimistic about the situation in his country, which last year faced the worst violence since the 2001 ousting of the Taliban. "I would say success is in sight, failure is not an option. ... I am more hopeful today than I was some time back," he said.

In Paris, a Sarkozy adviser said the French president had set out conditions for extra French troops in a letter to NATO allies, including an increase in international aid to Afghanistan.

"He calls for a coordinated strategy whose goal will be a stable Afghanistan, reconciled with itself and free of terrorism and drug trafficking," the adviser said.