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NATO Summit Opens with Appeals for Greater Effort in Afghanistan


As talks among NATO leaders get under way in Bucharest, much of the emphasis will be on what the alliance can and should do to help stabilize Afghanistan. France is expected to announce additional troop deployments and U.S. President George W. Bush has appealed to NATO allies to step forward with more forces as well. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

NATO leaders have acknowledged that Afghanistan is an important test case for the 26-member alliance as it seeks to re-define itself in a post-Cold-War, post 9/11 era.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan currently comprises some 47,000 troops, but there have been dire reports recently that more forces and greater political efforts are needed if that country is to be saved from deteriorating into a failed state.

Speaking in Bucharest, President Bush called on NATO members to do more to counter the threat of terrorism by stepping up efforts in Afghanistan.

"The terrorist threat is real, it is deadly and defeating this enemy is the top priority of NATO," said Mr. Bush. "Our alliance must maintain its resolve and finish the fight. As [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy put it in London last week, we cannot afford to lose Afghanistan, whatever the cost, however difficult the victory, we cannot afford it, we must win. I agree completely."

France is expected to announce it will send additional forces to Afghanistan and the United States has said it is deploying an additional 3,500 Marines. Romania has committed to adding forces as have several other allies.

In an interview with VOA, NATO spokesman James Appathurai, said NATO would welcome additional French troops, noting that getting additional forces into Afghanistan is a prerequisite for also keeping Canadian troops there.

"It will allow Canada to maintain its commitment for a few more years in Afghanistan, because that was the condition that the Canadian parliament imposed on any extensions to 2010," he noted.

Canada wants its European allies to send at least 1,000 more troops as well as drones and helicopters to help Canadian forces fight insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Speaking in Bucharest, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was optimistic that NATO would come up with the necessary reinforcements.

NATO-member Turkey announced it has no plans to send combat troops to Afghanistan. President Abdullah Gul said, however, that Turkey would increase other types of assistance.

Speaking in Bucharest, NATO-Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer said it is vital that NATO and the wider international community remain committed to helping Afghanistan.

"We should not forget that are on one of the frontlines against terrorism in Afghanistan and that is a major reason that we cannot afford not to prevail and we are prevailing in Afghanistan," he said.

NATO officials and experts say stabilizing Afghanistan will take more than just military might. They say political progress and development are also a vital part of the equation.

The NATO Summit in Bucharest ends on Friday.

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