US to NATO: Send troops to Afghanistan faster
Under U.S. pressure, NATO members are considering sending more troops, more quickly to help secure Afghanistan's upcoming elections -- on top of what the alliance just agreed to at its summit in Istanbul, a senior Bush administration official said on Tuesday.
"We're going to try to do more," the official told reporters, adding that the United States wants the deployments "the earlier the better" to provide security in the run-up to the September vote.
The official said the discussions got under way on the sidelines of the NATO summit, where U.S. President Bush met earlier on Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"I have reason to believe that more troops will be offered for the (September) elections," the official said. "In the next couple of weeks, we'll try to put this together."
Asked which countries would provide the additional troops, the official said, "NATO. I don't mean the U.S." He declined to discuss the number of troops that might be involved.
The negotiations follow Karzai's personal appeal to NATO leaders in Istanbul to "hurry" with extra troop deployments before voters go to the polls.
NATO currently has a force of 6,500 troops in Afghanistan.
The alliance decided on Monday to deploy roughly 1,500 extra military personnel in Kabul and the relatively stable North of the country during the elections, and a further 700 to take command of four "reconstruction teams" in the North.
But the figures fall far short of the 5,000 the United Nations and the government want to secure the elections, which Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt.
For now, the additional NATO forces agreed in Istanbul are not expected to arrive in the country until closer to the elections because allied nations have been slow to offer troops and crucial but costly equipment such as helicopters and transport planes for the mission.
"I welcome very much your decision yesterday to send us security forces to help us with the elections," Karzai told NATO leaders in Istanbul on Tuesday.
"But ... we need security forces today in Afghanistan to provide a secure environment for elections for the Afghan people and beyond.
"I would like you to please hurry, as NATO, in Afghanistan: come sooner than September...," he added.
The senior Bush administration official said the United States supported Karzai's efforts to expedite the deployment, and predicted, "There will be some decisions about this" in a couple of weeks.
"He (Karzai) asked NATO to do more. We think NATO should be doing more, and we're trying to get NATO to do more," the official said, but cautioned: "This is not easy."