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Bush says more international troops needed for Darfur

WASHINGTON—President Bush said Friday that more international troops are needed to establish peace in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur.

"We need more troops," Bush said after a speech in Tampa, Fla. "And so I'm in the process now of working with a variety of folks to encourage there to be more troops, probably under the United Nations. But it's going to require, I think, a NATO stewardship, planning, facilitating, organizing—probably double the number of peacekeepers that are there now."

While Bush didn't say that U.S. troops would take part, his suggestion that NATO would play a lead role in Darfur means U.S. forces would likely be involved since the United States has the top military commander in the alliance and is its pivotal member.

James Dobbins, a former ambassador to the European Community, said NATO's role would likely be limited to a few hundred troops providing planning, logistics and intelligence support to a U.N. force. U.S. troops would probably number in the dozens, he said.

"I think other NATO members would expect U.S. participation," Dobbins said.

About 7,000 troops from the African Union have struggled to keep the peace in Darfur since a cease-fire was declared two years ago. But they've failed to stop rampages by Arab militias, which have killed tens of thousands of mostly non-Arabs and displaced more than 2 million others.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Washington to discuss the crisis, but he stopped short of asking for troops.

A group of U.S. senators introduced a resolution Friday calling on Bush to press NATO for troops—including U.S. forces if necessary—to support the African peacekeepers and for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur.

"The U.S. must lead international efforts to stop the mass killings of innocent men, women and children in Darfur," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., one of five sponsors.

"We must do more than declare genocide," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. "We must do all we can to stop the killings, and we must do it now."

The U.N. Security Council announced Feb. 3 that it plans to send U.N. forces to take over the African mission. However, it could take a year before a U.N. force deploys, and it's still unclear what sort of mandate the council will authorize, Biden and Brownback said.

Since the 2004 cease-fire, the United States has airlifted more than 2,500 troops from Rwanda to Darfur, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. military has offered a handful of planners to help the U.N. peacekeepers take over from the African force.

A NATO diplomat said the alliance's defense ministers discussed the crisis at a meeting in Italy last week, but only agreed that "NATO would look kindly on a request for more airlift support" for the current mission and the U.N. force.

But ground involvement is another matter, and a "no-fly zone would be extremely controversial," said the diplomat, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record about policy issues.

"While there is a willingness on the part of NATO to do more in terms of airlift, to do anything more would be extremely difficult because a number of nations oppose any deeper involvement than that," the diplomat said. "To get a significant number of NATO nations involved would take a lot of persuading."

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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