Sun, May 04, 2008 - Page 1 News List

US mulls troop surge for Afghan south

BACK IN THE LEAD?With NATO’s response to calls for more troops in Afghanistan a modest one, the Pentagon could now pull soldiers from Iraq for the mission there

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK

The US is considering sending an extra 7,000 troops to Afghanistan next year to make up for a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said if the plan was to be approved, the number of US troops in the country would rise to about 40,000, and entail at least a modest reduction in troops from Iraq.

US President George W. Bush told allies at a NATO summit in Bucharest last month that the US would significantly increase its force levels in Afghanistan next year.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also has pushed other European allies to provide combat troops and equipment to fill shortfalls in the volatile south, but the response so far has been tepid.

But the Times said the Pentagon now appears resigned to the fact that NATO is unable or unwilling to contribute more troops despite its public pledges.

The increasing proportion of US troops in Afghanistan, from about half to about two-thirds of all foreign troops in the country, will likely result in what one senior administration official described as “the re-Americanization” of the war, the report said.

“There are simply going to be more American forces than we’ve ever had there,” the paper quoted the official as saying.

So far a dozen NATO countries have pledged a total of about 2,000 additional troops for Afghanistan, while alliance commanders have asked for 10,000, the paper said.

The US has about 34,000 troops in Afghanistan, 16,000 of them under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in eastern Afghanistan.

The other 18,000 are involved in counter-terrorism operations and training of Afghan security forces.

But a contingent of some 2,500 US Marines was deployed to Afghanistan last month to reinforce NATO forces in the south for seven months.

Southern Afghanistan, site of the worst in a surge of Taliban violence, is under NATO command. Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia have forces there.

“This is a matter that’s going to be looked at over probably some period of time primarily because it requires consultation with our allies,” Gates told reporters when asked to comment on discussion at the Pentagon about the possibility of taking over command in the south.

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