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    Pentagon: Failure in Afghanistan Would Mean Taliban 'Takeover'

    US Defense Secretary tells Senate Taliban-ruled areas could again become sanctuary for al-Qaida, and staging area for militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan

    U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says failure of the international military effort in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban "takeover" of much of the country.

    Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that Taliban-ruled areas could again become a sanctuary for al-Qaida, and a staging area for militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan.  He said success for the extremists would strengthen al-Qaida, and would provide renewed opportunities for recruitment, fundraising and sophisticated operations for the terror network.

    Gates is testifying along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

    Late Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.  He said the additional U.S. forces will help accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan's security to Afghan forces, and will allow U.S. troops to begin leaving the country by July 2011.

    Speaking at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, President Obama said the common security of the world is at stake, with al-Qaida planning new terrorist attacks from safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

    At the congressional hearing, Secretary Clinton said that among a range of difficult choices, the new strategy is the best way to protect the U.S. and its allies.  She said setting a time frame for a transition will provide a sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government.

    The additional troops are to be deployed in weeks and will focus on fighting the insurgency, securing key population centers and training Afghan security forces.

    The president appealed to U.S. allies to contribute additional troops and resources.  There are some 39,000 non-U.S troops serving in Afghanistan under NATO.  The extra deployments will bring the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 100,000.  

    Senior administration officials say all the U.S. forces will be in place in about six months.  President Obama said the troop surge will cost about $30 billion in the coming year.

    The Obama administration is struggling to counter declining U.S. public support and rising casualties in the eight-year war.  Mr. Obama said the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is not "open-ended."

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