3 Min Read
By Andrew Gray
EN ROUTE TO MUSCAT, April 4 (Reuters) - The United States expects to add a "significant" number of extra troops to NATO's mission in Afghanistan next year, President George W. Bush has told fellow alliance leaders.
Bush told the leaders about the expected troop boost when they discussed Afghanistan at a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"The president indicated that he expected in 2009 that the United States would make a significant additional contribution," Gates told reporters on his plane on Friday as he flew from the summit to the Gulf state of Oman.
Bush leaves office in January 2009. But Gates said the war in Afghanistan against Taliban insurgents enjoyed broad political support in the United States and he expected the next president would honour the pledge.
"I believe this is one area where there is very broad bipartisan support in the United States for being successful and I think that no matter who is elected they will want to be successful in Afghanistan," Gates said.
"I think this was a pretty safe thing for him to say."
The United States is the biggest contributor to NATO's 47,000-strong force in Afghanistan, with around 17,000 troops.
Gates said it was too soon to put a figure on how many more U.S. troops may deploy to Afghanistan or define their role or likely location.
The United States has urged allies to redouble their efforts in Afghanistan in the face of rising violence there.
Some European allies have been irked by the public U.S. exhortations to do more in a war they believe the United States neglected to focus on Iraq.
But the leaders at the summit pledged a long-term commitment to the mission.
Asked if a troop boost for the force next year would depend on the United States being able to draw down further in Iraq, Gates said: "I think by '09, it would be independent of that."
The United States is in the process of a limited drawdown in Iraq and expects to have around 140,000 troops there in late July once that process is complete.
U.S. commanders have said they will then pause to evaluate the situation before deciding on any further withdrawals. (Reporting by Andrew Gray)