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Top US Officer Calls 2009 'Critical' for Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer says 2009 is a critical year for implementing President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, spoke Tuesday to a gathering in Washington of senior military officers from South and Central Asia.

Admiral Mullen called on the senior officers to join with the U.S. military in helping restore stability in Afghanistan, and he said time is of the essence. "Just so you know, I have a great sense of urgency about where we are right now with this strategy. The trends in Afghanistan over the last three years are generally not positive. The level of violence is up. I worry a great deal about the overarching impact of the global financial crisis on not just Afghanistan or Pakistan, but all of us in our ability to resource this in the future. So my sense of urgency is, 2009 is a really critical year in executing the strategy," he said.

The admiral was referring to the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that President Obama announced on Friday. It makes defeating al-Qaida and other terrorist groups the top priority, and calls for more regional cooperation, among other things. "Our United States military is dedicated to getting this right. We know we must work with you to do that. We're anxious and eager to do that. And we're anxious to listen to you on how best to do that," he said.

Admiral Mullen said the longer it takes the international community to address the security situation in Afghanistan, the longer foreign troops will have to be there.

He also said the attack on a police training academy in Lahore on Monday is further evidence that extremists groups are a threat to Pakistan as well as to Afghanistan. He said Pakistani leaders recognize that and are beginning to do things to confront the problem.

Admiral Mullen spoke shortly after the American officer in charge of training Afghanistan's army and police said his staff has sent Washington an analysis of a plan to sharply increase the size of the Afghan forces, beyond the numbers already approved. NATO and the Afghan government have agreed to build an army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 by the end of 2011. On Tuesday, Major General Richard Formica told reporters those numbers could nearly double, but the plan has not been fully discussed with other coalition members or approved in either Washington or Kabul.

"It needs to be fully vetted, and when it is then we'll determine a number that makes sense for the security and stability of Afghanistan, that the Afghan government and its people can sustain with the assistance of coalition partners," he said.

General Formica says he will deploy the 4,000 additional U.S. military trainers President Obama approved on Friday to relatively volatile southern and western Afghanistan. He says about 13 U.S. troops will be attached to each Afghan battalion of about 500 soldiers, and also to police units. He says those trainers will work in addition to other American and coalition training units elsewhere in the country.