U.S. aims for more troops in Afghanistan, Gates says

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  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl U.N.I.T.Y Staff Member

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    By Andrew Gray – 58 mins ago

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hoped a U.S. troop increase for Afghanistan would be mostly done by late spring, as his commander warned Afghan forces were three or four years from leading the fight.

    Gates, visiting a dusty NATO base near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, criticized the United Nations and the European Union for not doing more to help stabilize the country.

    There are some 65,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including more than 30,000 from the United States, struggling to combat worsening insurgent violence which has sparked alarm in Washington and other Western capitals.

    U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces and most U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has requested four more combat brigades and support units -- a total of more than 20,000 troops.

    One of those brigades is scheduled to deploy in January.

    "Beyond January, we are hopeful that we will be able to send an additional two brigade combat teams by late spring," Gates, who will stay in his post after Barack Obama becomes U.S. president next month, told reporters at the NATO base.

    Most of the extra troops are expected to go to southern Afghanistan, the scene of the fiercest insurgent violence.

    Washington's ability to send more forces to Afghanistan depends largely on being able to pull some of its 150,000 troops out of Iraq, where security has improved dramatically but commanders caution the situation remains fragile.

    Obama has pledged to make Afghanistan one of his top priorities and to send more troops there.

    Seven years after U.S.-led forces ended Taliban rule in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, both Gates and McKiernan said a sustained commitment to Afghanistan by Washington and its allies was still needed for years to come.

    "It's going to take us another three or four years to develop the army and continue to work on reforming and developing the police to have less reliance on international forces," McKiernan told reporters traveling with Gates.

    Both Gates and McKiernan declined to say whether that meant 50,000 U.S. troops -- the likely total after the planned buildup is complete -- would need to stay in Afghanistan that long.


    At a town hall-style meeting with U.S. troops in a large tent on the base, Gates renewed criticism of other NATO nations for not providing more troops and other resources to Afghanistan.

    He said that, without the United States, the alliance had some 2.5 million men and women under arms, yet had only about 30,000 of them in Afghanistan, which NATO leaders have declared their top operational priority.

    "I think it's a real concern that the United States is having to bear a disproportionate part of the burden," he said.

    Gates said other NATO nations should be able to supply many badly needed trainers for the Afghan police but he described as "trivial" the number provided by the European Union, which accounts for a large proportion of NATO members.

    He also said international aid projects in Afghanistan remained poorly coordinated and the United Nations had not given its top official in the country, a former Norwegian foreign minister, enough support to tackle the problem.

    "Unfortunately, in my opinion, the United Nations has not provided ambassador Kai Eide with the resources -- both people and money -- that he needs to do the job," he said.

    Asked at the meeting how long the broader war with Islamist militants would last, Gates noted that America's last ideological struggle -- the Cold War -- went on for 45 years.

    "How long this will go on is an unknown but I think it will be protracted," said Gates, who was a Soviet analyst at the CIA during the Cold War and later became head of the spy agency.

    (Editing by Andrew Roche)


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