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Bush Calls for More Forces in Darfur Area

2/19/2006 11:55pm

Associated Press Writer

February 17, 2006, 7:17 PM EST

TAMPA, Fla. -- President Bush said Friday that calming Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region will require "probably double" the current number of international peacekeepers and a coordinating role for NATO.

The U.N. already is planning to assume control of peacekeeping from the poorly trained and ill-equipped African Union force, numbering about 7,000, which has not stopped the violence in Darfur.

The United States and several other nations have said genocide has occurred in western Sudan, where 180,000 have died from famine and violence in three years. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has been accused of backing the Janjaweed militia against ethnic tribe members.

"The strategy was to encourage African Union troops to try to bring some sense of security to these poor people that are being herded out of their villages and terribly mistreated," Bush told a friendly, invitation-only audience of about 500 inside a Port of Tampa cruise ship terminal. "The effort was noble, but it didn't achieve the objective."

He said an effective mission "is going to require, I think, a NATO stewardship," which Bush said would mean the military alliance would providing planning and coordination. Bush did not say whether U.S. forces should participate directly.

"We believe it is premature to speculate about what types of forces and equipment may be needed until we see the U.N. plans," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Earlier Friday, Bush discussed options with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

The president also had domestic politics on his mind during his one-day swing through Florida.

He pressed the same tough-on-terrorism message that was so successful in his 2004 re-election campaign -- and which aide Karl Rove has advised Republicans to copy in this fall's congressional elections. The president appeared at a Disney resort in Lake Buena Vista to raise about $3 million for the state GOP over dinner.

In Tampa, Bush said the United States would not waver in fighting al-Qaida and other terrorists.

"People, you know, kind of want to slip to the comfortable," the president said. "They don't believe it's a war, some of them."

Bush paced casually around a pen-like enclosure on the floor, shedding his jacket and rolling up his sleeves before submitting to gentle questioning from a sympathetic audience that surrounded him.

Responding to one person interested in where America is headed on abortion, family and faith, Bush said, "We've seen a culture change in our lifetime ... and it can change again."

He attributed his optimism to what he termed "a religious awakening" in the country, as he said more people are embracing not only Christianity, but Judaism, Islam and others as well.

Before his address, the president received an update on Iraq and the war on terror in a private, hourlong briefing at the MacDill Air Force Base headquarters of U.S. Central Command. Afterward, he briefly stopped to shake hands with about a dozen enthusiastic, flag-waving supporters and met behind closed doors at the base with the family of a soldier killed in Iraq.

About 20 anti-war protesters also appeared along Bush's motorcade route.

The president asked Americans for patience with the war in Iraq.

"We shouldn't be discouraged about setbacks, short-term setbacks, or the enemy's capacity to take innocent life, because we've seen democracy change the world in the past," the president said.
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