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Bush Orders More Troops Into Afghanistan

Johanna Neuman and Joel Havemann, The Los Angeles Times

Thursday 15 February 2007

Washington - President Bush today announced a new infusion of troops and funds to help Afghanistan survive an expected assault this spring from the Taliban and urged NATO to do more, too.

Asking NATO nations to send additional troops to Afghanistan and urging their soldiers be given more flexibility, Bush said, "When our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries `We need additional help,' our NATO countries must provide it.

"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 its stand," Bush said.

U.S. troops will have their stay extended for four months, and deploy a replacement force for the future, Bush said. He added that the U.S. government will also help increase Afghanistan's security forces - doubling the Army's size to 70,000 from 32,000 over the next two years.

Five years after the U.S.-led war in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime from power, the Taliban have regained strength. Saying that Afghan and NATO forces "turned back" a rebel offensive several months ago, Bush said, "I believe the Taliban felt they could exploit weakness."

To buttress the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai against expected attacks in the future, Bush said he is asking Congress for $11.8 billion "to help this young democracy survive."

And he outlined an ambitious plan - from increasing the Afghan security and police forces to building the country's rural economy, in an effort - to stabilize the population. Among the important steps, he said, was helping to rebuild Afghanistan's highway system, and attacking poppy cultivation, which he called "a direct threat to a free future," and fight corruption in the courts.

"There is nothing more discouraging than when justice is not fair," he said, noting that Afghanistan's court system is "too often run by crooked judges." Bush praised lawyers from the U.S., Britain, Italy and Norway for providing assistance and training.

As for the road system, Bush said that aside from helping provide jobs to young men, "who might be recruited by the Taliban," the roads help build the country's commerce.

"Where the roads end in Afghanistan, the Taliban begins," he said. "We've built 4,000 miles of road so far ů much of the ring road that links provincial capitals to Kabul is pretty well complete."

Finally, Bush said he hopes to help Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf repel Taliban forces that have been holed up in the mountains between the two countries. "That's wild country, wilder than the wild, wild West," Bush said.

Bush disclosed that he met privately at the White House with both Karzai and Musharraf to discuss shared interests. Despite tensions of their history, Bush said, both agreed to share intelligence and expand trade.

In an effort to increase economic prospects, Bush said, he told both presidents that entrepreneurs in their countries could export their locally produced products to the United States duty free.

"It's a tiny contribution for us," he said, "a major contribution" for them."

Bush has been criticized by some in Congress for ignoring security issues in Afghanistan, at the expense of putting all the administration's efforts into the increasingly dire situation in Iraq. Countering that impression, Bush outlined everything the administration and its NATO allies have done.

And he thanked the people of Afghanistan for supporting democracy - 8 million went to the polls in the country's first democratic election to elect Karzi - and promised more help is on the way.

"I'm really proud our country helped liberate the 25 million people of that country," he said.

:: Article nr. 30669 sent on 15-feb-2007 23:16 ECT


Link: www.truthout.org/docs_2006/021507R.shtml

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