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US Defense Chief to Recommend More Troops for Afghanistan


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are recommending increased troop levels to help combat the growing Taleban insurgency. The recommendation comes on top of President Bush's decision to send an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq. Gates' comments came the same day NATO-led forces said they had captured a "prominent" Taleban commander during a raid in southern Afghanistan. VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Afghanistan for a series of meetings with U.S. and Afghan officials, amid growing concerns that the Taleban may be gaining ground in much of the country.

On Wednesday, Gates toured the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, where he told reporters that U.S. commanders have recommended raising troop levels to help secure the volatile country.

On Tuesday, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Lt. General Karl Eikenberry, also proposed extending combat tours for more than 1,200 U.S. soldiers, in order to help defeat the insurgency.

Gates arrived as Afghan officials announced the capture of two prominent Taleban members. On Monday, Afghan forces captured a well-known Taleban spokesman, Mohammad Hanif, in the eastern part of the country not far from the Pakistan border.

U.S. military officials say insurgent attacks jumped by more than 200 percent in December, and that much of the Taleban's "command and control" is operating from inside Pakistan.

Secretary Gates says the matter will be raised with the Pakistan government.

"The border area is a problem," he said. "There are more attacks coming across the border, there are al-Qaida networks operating on the Pakistani side of the border. And these are issues that we clearly will have to pursue with the Pakistani government."

Last year was Afghanistan's deadliest since 2001, when U.S. led forces ousted the Taleban regime. More than 4,000 people were killed, with most of the violence occurring in those provinces along the Pakistan border.

A second capture, of a prominent Taleban commander, took place late Tuesday during a precision overnight raid in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. NATO officials would not release the captive's name but said he linked to a series of "criminal acts."

NATO spokesman General Richard Nugee told reporters in Kabul Wednesday that international forces in the country are actively seeking to "kill or capture Taleban leaders."

"The Taleban is not an army," he said. "The Taleban is a group of individuals who congregate around a leader, and if you destroy the leader by killing or capturing him you destroy the people beneath him."

Gates said the request for additional U.S. troops for Afghanistan would be reviewed by the U.S. joint chiefs before he discussed the issue with President Bush. The request comes as Mr. Bush's decision to send 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq is under fire from some members of Congress and the public.

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