ITALY PETRAEUS
Alessandra Tarantino  /  AP
The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, left, shakes hands with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi at Palazzo Chigi Government office, in Rome on Tuesday.
updated 12/9/2008 6:43:44 PM ET 2008-12-09T23:43:44

The 20,000 additional troops sought by American commanders for the NATO mission in Afghanistan would come from the United States, with any additional increase supplied by allies, the U.S. general who oversees the Afghan war said Tuesday.

Gen. David Petraeus, who is head of U.S. Central Command, was asked at an American institute in Rome, where he gave a speech, about beefing up troops in Afghanistan.

There are more than 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, just over half of whom are from the U.S.

U.S. troop levels are already at their highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But American commanders are seeking 20,000 more troops to stem the violence that has engulfed parts of the country.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has also called for increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan.

The increase of "somewhere around 20,000 or so" would come "on the U.S. side," Petraeus told his audience, which included Italian military officers and political and strategic analysts.

As for any additional contribution from other NATO countries, "if you can ask the question in Brussels, we would be very grateful to you," the general said.

NATO, which has its headquarters in Brussels, has been trying to invigorate what is seen as flagging European support for military operations in Afghanistan.

Foreign help
Petraeus did not say how many additional troops he would like U.S. allies to contribute.

He met Tuesday night with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and on Wednesday had talks scheduled with Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini.

Italy has 2,500 troops in NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Frattini said last week the U.S. should look elsewhere in Europe if it wants additional troops for Afghanistan.

No immediate news emerged regarding the Petraeus-Berlusconi meeting, but Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa appeared to reinforce Frattini's position in separate talks with the U.S. general.

"We maintain that more forces are needed in Afghanistan, but we also maintain that Italy is among those countries already most involved," La Russa told reporters, the Italian news agency Apcom reported. "Everything's possible, obviously, but our orientation is not to increase the number of our men employed in various theaters," the defense minister was quoted as saying after the meeting.

"But if the situation changes, responses can also change," La Russa added, according to Apcom.

Talking with the Taliban
Some U.S. political and military leaders have considered negotiations with elements of the Taliban as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan.

Petraeus appeared to distance himself from that possibility. He told his audience, without elaborating, that he has not said he would negotiate with the Taliban.

However, speaking about what was learned from the war in Iraq, where Petraeus had been the top commander, the general said it was important to separate the "irreconcilables" from the "reconcilables" among insurgents.

"If they are truly irreconcilable then they must be killed, captured or run out of the country," Petraeus said. But the others, "if you do it right, can be embraced, can be made part of the solution instead of a continuing part of the problem, and that means though sometimes sitting down across from a negotiating table with people who may have your blood on their hands."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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