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Pentagon: Bigger Afghan Army Would Need International Commitment

The Pentagon says any move to further increase the size of Afghan security forces will require an international commitment to provide trainers and funding. The spokesman says such a proposal may well be part of a report expected next month from the new U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the United States is already spending more than $7 billion a year to recruit, train and equip Afghan soldiers, and has accelerated the plan to raise their number to 134,000. He notes that 4,000 U.S. training troops will arrive in the country in the coming months. But he says increasing the size of the Afghan army more quickly, or to a higher number, would require more help.

"Trainers have been at a premium," said Morrell. "We've had to contribute more of them than we would like because it's been difficult getting them from our allies. If we all believe that it is necessary to grow the Afghan national security forces even beyond that, it's going to take an enormous commitment from not just us, but with the world."

Morrell says that commitment must include trainers and money.

He says a decision about whether to further increase the size of the Afghan Army will not be made until after the new U.S. and NATO commander in the country, General Stanley McChrystal, provides his 60-day assessment next month. But Morrell says the general has already told Defense Secretary Robert Gates a proposal on the size of the Afghan force will be part of his report.

"When he reports back on his overall evaluation of the situation on the ground I can tell you a component of that will be a recommendation on whether to go bigger, and if so how much faster do we need to do it," he said.

The Washington Post reported last week that General McChrystal has already told Secretary Gates the Afghan Army needs to be larger than planned, and so does the police force. But some experts say before adding to the police force, the current force must be re-trained to eliminate corruption and officers who sympathize with the insurgents must be weeded out.

Meanwhile, U.S. and coalition forces are continuing their offensive in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, with help from very few Afghan troops. Four thousand U.S. marines are working with just 650 Afghan soldiers, who have been distributed among the American units. Geoff Morrell could not say why so few of the current 90,000 Afghan troops are part of the operation, but he says more will clearly be needed.

"We are right now [in] sort of the clear operation, and now by default the hold operation," he said. "But ultimately the 'hold and build' has to be conducted by the Afghan National Security Forces."

Morrell says just how fast those forces can grow will be clearer after the brigade of additional U.S. trainers gets to Afghanistan in the coming months, and has some time to work.