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NATO Says Taliban Not Surging, But More Foreign Forces Needed

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan is disputing claims that the Taliban is experiencing a resurgence and that the recent increase in violence proves it. The commander also says the number of foreign forces he has is too small, and is likely to remain that way. General Dan McNeill spoke to reporters at the Pentagon and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

General McNeill says the increased violence is related to the more offensive posture his NATO troops have taken, spending more time outside their bases and going into areas where they have not patrolled in the past.

"Those who use the increased levels of violence to try to make a case or an argument are generally going to get it wrong, unless they understand what is causing those increased levels of violence," McNeill said.

General McNeill says many experienced Taliban leaders were killed during last year's fighting season, and that while the group is trying to recruit new members the leadership will be difficult to replace. He says the major offensive last spring and summer was by NATO and U.S. forces, and he says that will be true again this year.

The American general also disputed a statement by the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has said there is a "classic, growing insurgency" in Afghanistan. In addition, two independent reports published in Washington last week say the international effort in Afghanistan has stalled.

General McNeill disagrees, but he also acknowledges that the Afghanistan effort is what the military calls an "economy of force" operation.

"The members of the alliance are going to produce only so much," he said. "I accept that. The trick then is to manage the risk that is inherent in having an under-resourced international force and reaching the level of capacity at which the Afghan national security forces ought to be."

General McNeill says the Afghan army is developing well, but the police are about 18 months behind, and he says that is the most important force in fighting an insurgency. He says he needs more NATO troops and more trainers for the Afghan police, and he expects to get some, although likely not as many as he needs, when NATO defense ministers meet Thursday and Friday in Lithuania.

"I think there will be some announcements from various ministers at Vilnius, that they are going to increase," McNeill said. "Will it be by the huge numbers that probably would be fitting the correct application of doctrine for counterinsurgency? Not likely that much. But will it be helpful? It will be most helpful."

The United States has announced it will send 2,200 Marines to Afghanistan in April to help fight the Taliban in the south, and another thousand to help train the Afghan forces. U.S. officials are calling for NATO allies to also send more troops, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will "nag" the allies again during this week's meetings.