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US Commander Hopes To Have More Troops to Afghanistan


The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan says he hopes President-elect Barack Obama moves quickly to send more troops to Afghanistan, because he does not have enough force to provide security in some parts of the country. General David McKiernan spoke during a visit to Washington, and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

General McKiernan disputed the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which said the situation in Afghanistan is in a downward spiral. But he said that may be true in some areas, and he said there is support in the U.S. chain of command for his request for four additional combat brigades, plus support and specialized forces - a request that could total 20,000 troops.

The first of the additional troops is expected to arrive in Afghanistan in January, but further deployments will be decided on by President-elect Obama, who takes office January 20. General McKiernan had this exchange with a reporter during an appearance Tuesday at the Atlantic Council.

Reporter: "What's your expectation of how soon he, as president, will follow through on his campaign pledges to increase troop levels in Afghanistan?"

McKiernan: "I don't know. Hopefully quickly, but I don't know."

The United States has already added several thousand troops to its Afghanistan force this year, bringing the total to 32,000, along with 37,000 from other NATO countries.

General McKiernan says in addition to combat forces, he needs more air assets, used for reconnaissance and transportation as well as combat, and more intelligence-gathering and logistics capability. He said he particularly needs more forces in the south and the west to deliver one of the main requirements for fighting an insurgency - security for the local people.

"In [the] southern Afghanistan area, Helmand, Kandahar, quite frankly we do not have enough military forces there, international, Afghan Army, Afghan police, border police, to have sufficient presence in southern Afghanistan to provide for adequate security for the people," said General McKiernan. "Those are the additional U.S. forces I've asked for that would go into the south, and the west eventually, to provide better security to reinforce our efforts."

The general says those efforts must involve economic development and the delivery of government services. But U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine acknowledges it is difficult to deliver the civilian aid unless some level of security is established first.

He also endorsed the concept of reconciliation with Afghans who have worked with insurgent groups, including the Taliban, saying it is potentially a "very, very powerful" tool. But he said any such effort must be led by the Afghan government, not the U.S. military.

General McKiernan also says there are some preliminary indications that increased Pakistani security operations along its border with Afghanistan are having some effect on insurgents who take refuge in Pakistan and do their fighting mainly in Afghanistan. But he says it is too early to determine whether the effort will have a significant impact.

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