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Officials: Afghanistan Needs More Troops

AP | November 22, 2006
LOLITA C. BALDOR

WASHINGTON -- More troops and sophisticated equipment are needed to bolster Afghanistan's security forces, but it is not clear whether more U.S. troops will be deployed there, U.S. and Afghan defense officials said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry told Pentagon reporters that U.S. officials will wait until after next week's NATO summit in Latvia to see how many troops other countries plan to provide before deciding if more U.S. forces must be sent to Afghanistan.

"I think it will be best at this point to wait and see what NATO is able to provide," Eikenberry said. "There's more meetings that are taking place on the military staff. And this is very high on their agenda."

U.S. military leaders have been pushing NATO members to meet their commitments and provide more troops in Afghanistan. For months, officials have said that NATO nations have provided only 85 percent of the support they promised. There is a NATO-led force of about 30,000 in Afghanistan, including some 12,000 U.S. troops. An additional 11,000 American troops are there under U.S. control, conducting counterterrorism operations and other training and reconstruction duties.

The Afghan minister of defense, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who met Tuesday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said his country needs more firepower, transport planes and armored vehicles. The Afghans have asked for additional helicopters and aircraft that can move troops and supplies through the mountainous regions.

Eikenberry said some body armor, helmets and other equipment are already being provided to the Afghan National Army. He added that there have been no final decisions on what other weapons and aircraft would be provided, and therefore he could not provide any cost estimate.

He said now is an appropriate time to give the Afghans more sophisticated equipment because they are better able to operate and maintain the equipment. It will be less expensive to equip the Afghans than continue to use U.S. troops and equipment in the war there, he said.

Wardak said Afghanistan is accelerating its training program for the army, and hopes to have about 70,000 troops by October 2008 _ several years ahead of schedule. He said officials are hoping that NATO "will take a more effective role in equipping and training the Afghan national security forces."

"Once we are well-trained and well-equipped, we will be able to repay some of our debt to the international community by participating in peacekeeping operations," said Wardak, adding that Afghanistan would also be able to be "a permanent part of the war against terrorism."

In other comments, Eikenberry said the ongoing hunt for Osama bin Laden continues, and it "remains as much of a priority as it has since the United States of America was struck on 9/11."

 

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