- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

2:33 p.m.

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — President Bush said today he will press U.S. allies to do more to share the burden and the risks in fighting in Afghanistan as casualties rise with a resurgent Taliban.

“In order for NATO to be effective it has to transform itself into an organization that actually meets the threats that free nations face,” Mr. Bush said as he stood alongside NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Mr. De Hoop agreed, saying, “Afghanistan is still one of the front lines in our fight against terrorism.”

Mr. Bush is banking on NATO support to help quell the violence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s surging violence, NATO’s role in Kosovo and U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe are all on today’s agenda.

“I pledged to the secretary-general we’ll work with our NATO allies to convince them that they must share more of the burden and must all share the risks in meeting our goal,” Mr. Bush said.

“We also appreciate the fact that Afghanistan requires more than military action. We support a long-term comprehensive strategy to help strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic institutions and help create the economic opportunity that will help this young democracy survive and thrive,” he added.

In Afghanistan, more than 1,600 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to U.S., NATO and Afghan figures. The mounting civilian death toll has fueled distrust of international forces and U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

“That front line should not become a fault line,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said, adding, “I know it’s tough from time to time.”

Mr. Bush said he and the NATO chief also talked about further NATO expansion and missile defense, particularly the importance of reassuring Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country has nothing to fear from a system to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles.

“I will continue to reach out to Russia,” Mr. Bush said. He said it was central for the Russians to “understand that this missile shield is not directed at them, but, in fact, directed at other nations that could conceivably affect the peace of Europe.”

Both the president and the NATO chief decried the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan.

However, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said, “We are not in the same moral category as our opponents — as the Taliban in Afghanistan. We don’t behead people. We don’t burn schools. We don’t kill teachers. We don’t plant roadside bombs. We don’t send in suicide bombers.”

Said Mr. Bush: “The Taliban likes to surround themselves with innocent civilians. They don’t mind using human shields because they devalue human life. … We do not have sympathy for the tactics of the Taliban.

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