President George W. Bush said on Thursday the United States
would keep higher troop levels in Afghanistan in anticipation
of fierce fighting against the Taliban this spring after the most
violent year since the hard-line group was ousted.
He called on NATO to provide additional troops and equipment
when needed to ensure success in Afghanistan, and to lift restrictions
on where and how their forces can fight to give commanders flexibility.
"The alliance was founded on this principle: An attack on
one is an attack on all," Bush said in a speech to the American
He also said he had been "very clear" with Afghan President
Hamid Karzai that more action was needed to eradicate poppy cultivation,
which had shown a "marked increase" last year and was
helping the Taliban buy weapons.
Bush said he was asking the U.S. Congress for $11.8 billion over
the next two years for Afghanistan to help "this young democracy
The Pentagon had previously announced that a U.S. Army brigade
of 3,200 troops will go to Afghanistan instead of Iraq to maintain
higher troop levels, which Bush said would be sustained "for
the foreseeable future."
The United States has about 27,000 troops in Afghanistan, of
which about 15,000 are in the NATO force and the rest conduct
missions ranging from counter-terrorism to training Afghan forces.
"Across Afghanistan last year, the number of roadside bomb
attacks almost doubled, direct fire attacks on international forces
almost tripled, and suicide bombings grew nearly five-fold,"
"The snow is going to melt in the Hindu Kush Mountains,
and when it does we can expect fierce fighting to continue. The
Taliban and al Qaeda are preparing to launch new attacks."
Bush said it was important to increase cooperation between Afghanistan
and Pakistan, where Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were hiding
in remote regions he called "wilder than the Wild West."
Democrats have long criticized the Bush administration as too
focused on going to war in Iraq and not enough on finding al Qaeda
leaders like Osama bin Laden who are believed to be hiding in
the remote Afghan-Pakistan border area.
"The Bush administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan,
leaving a deteriorating situation to worsen and Osama bin Laden
on the loose more than five years after 9/11," said Stacie
Paxton, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "While
ignoring Afghanistan, President Bush has focused on escalating
the war in Iraq."
Bush is bolstering the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan at
the same time he is sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, a
decision for which he has drawn sharp criticism from Democratic
lawmakers in the U.S. Congress as well as some of his Republican
Unlike their response to Bush sending additional troops to Iraq,
Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
of Nevada said they supported having more troops in Afghanistan.
NATO, U.S. and Taliban commanders have warned of an increase
of fighting in the spring after the bloodiest year since the Taliban
were ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.
"This spring there's going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan,
and it's going to be a NATO offensive, and that's part of our
strategy -- relentless in our pressure," Bush said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Steve Holland)