WASHINGTON - Grappling with a record death toll in an overshadowed war, President Bush promised yesterday to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan by year's end.
He conceded that June was a "tough month," in fact, the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began.
"One reason why there have been more deaths is because our troops are taking the fight to a tough enemy, an enemy who doesn't like our presence there because they don't like the idea of America denying safe haven [to terrorists]," Mr. Bush said. "Of course there's going to be resistance."
He said it was a tough month for the Taliban too. But the insurgent in Afghanistan have rebounded with deadly force.
More U.S. and NATO troops have died in two months in Afghanistan than in Iraq, a place with triple the number of U.S. and coalition forces.
In June, 28 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan. That was the highest monthly total of the entire war, which began in October, 2001.
For the full U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, the death toll was 46, also the highest of the war.
Mr. Bush confronted the grim direction of the Afghanistan conflict during an event to tout his agenda for an upcoming Group of Eight meeting in Japan.
The Pentagon predicts that the number of attacks in Afghanistan by a resurgent Taliban will rise this year, despite U.S.-led efforts to capture key leaders.
"We're going to increase troops by 2009," Mr. Bush said, without offering details about exactly when or how many.
It amounted to a reiteration of the promised buildup of U.S. troops before the President leaves office in January.
He said coalition forces have doubled in size over two years and pledged that the twin strategy of fighting extremists and supporting Afghanistan's civil development "is going to work."
In terms of public attention, the war in Afghanistan has been obscured by the far costlier and deadlier one in Iraq.
But it is a matter of consensus within the Bush Administration, and between the U.S. and key allies, that there are far too few troops in Afghanistan to fight the accelerating Taliban and to train Afghan soldiers and police.
Roughly 32,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, including 14,000 serving with NATO forces and 18,000 conducting training and counterinsurgency. That's the largest U.S. presence since the war began.
Afghanistan, not Iraq, was the original target after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The United States led the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001 for providing haven to terrorists, including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The Pentagon's top military officer said that if security keeps improving in Iraq, he plans to have troops available to shift to Afghanistan by year's end
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more troops are essential to stem the violence.
"The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks, and as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate," Admiral Mullen said. "There's no easy solution, and there will be no quick fix."
The latest assessment from the Pentagon, released last week, describes a dual terror threat in Afghanistan: the Taliban in the south, and "a more complex, adaptive insurgency" in the east, made up of groups ranging from al-Qaeda and Afghan warlords to Pakistani militants.
Mr. Bush said he will seek to remind his peers at the G-8 summit that the battle against violent extremists goes on.