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US, NATO Pledge Support for Afghanistan

21 May 2007

The situation in Afghanistan dominated talks between President Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Bush family ranch in Texas. VOA's Paula Wolfson, reports the president wants NATO to do more.

The meeting at the ranch came at a time of growing concern over mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan - a concern that has prompted some members of NATO to reconsider the depth of their support for the military mission.

President Bush says the alliance must remain heavily involved.

"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," he said.

That goal is to defeat extremist threats to democracy in Afghanistan and enable that violence ridden country to finally thrive.

Speaking to reporters after the talks at the Bush ranch, de Hoop Scheffer stressed the stakes are far too high to quit.

"Afghanistan is still one of the front lines in our fight against terrorism," he said. "And it is my strong conviction that that front line should not become a fault line."

The secretary-general acknowledged that innocent civilians have lost their lives in U.S. and allied air strikes on Taleban insurgents. President Bush said he grieves with the families of the innocent Afghans caught in the crossfire and accused the Taleban of deliberately surrounding themselves with civilians as a military tactic.

"They do not mind using human shields because they devalue human life," he said.

A series of recent incidents involving the killing of Afghan civilians has sparked growing outrage around the country. Earlier this month President Hamid Karzai summoned foreign military commanders to tell them his people's patience was wearing thin.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO is doing everything in its power to keep civilian casualties down, and downplayed the notion the casualties are eroding support for the military operation.

"We still have very much the hearts and minds of the Afghan people because they do see that their nation, their own nation has no future under Taleban rule," he said. "I only have to refer to the kind and type of Afghanistan we saw under Taleban rule - a regime of the most gross human rights violations the world has seen."

NATO has about 37,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan - its largest deployment ever outside Europe.

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