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Page last updated at 22:10 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 23:10 UK

More US troops for Afghan force

US soldiers in Afghanistan
The US currently has about 17,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan

The US intends to send a "significant" number of extra troops to aid Nato's effort in Afghanistan in 2009, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said.

The unspecified increase will come regardless of whether US troop levels in Iraq are reduced, Mr Gates said.

US President George Bush made the offer at a Nato summit in Romania, he said.

Although the final decision will rest with the next president, Mr Gates said there was bipartisan backing for "success" in Afghanistan.

The US currently has about 17,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.

"The president indicated that he expected in 2009 that the United States would make a significant additional contribution," said Mr Gates as he flew from the Bucharest summit to the Gulf state of Oman.

Shortfalls

The defence secretary added that combating Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan would remain a high priority for the next US president, regardless of their political affiliation.

"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," said Mr Gates.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had earlier said more French troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, easing fears of a crisis within the Western coalition there.

The US says the French move, expected to involve up to 1,000 extra soldiers, will free up some of its troops to move to southern Afghanistan, where Canada had demanded Nato reinforcements be sent.

Canada's parliament voted last month to extend its military mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011 - but only if its allies sent reinforcements.

BBC Defence and Security Correspondent Rob Watson says troop shortfalls in Afghanistan have been estimated at between 7,000 and 10,000 soldiers.

Until now at least the conflict in Iraq has restricted the number of troops a decidedly stretched US military has available for Afghanistan, he says.

Separately, Russia and Nato signed a deal allowing the alliance to transport non-lethal freight to Afghanistan through Russian territory. A Nato spokeswoman said the agreement covered a range of items from food to some military equipment.

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