Afghanistan hails Obama decision to raise troop numbers


Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 1

US President Barack Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, a surge in numbers promptly welcomed by the Kabul government yesterday as it battles a Taliban insurgency.

Stressing that “the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action,” Obama ordered the deployments in response to a standing request by the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, who had asked for 30,000 more troops.

“This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama said in a statement on Tuesday.

The president said he had approved a request by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade in the spring, and an Army Stryker Brigade and support forces later this summer.

The White House said the troops would be deployed to Afghanistan ahead of Afghan elections scheduled for Aug. 20, significantly building up the 38,000-strong US force already on the ground battling a growing insurgency.

The US president on Tuesday spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the phone for the first time, exactly four weeks after Obama’s inauguration, Karzai’s office said yesterday.

The two presidents spoke about security issues and Afghanistan’s presidential elections in August, Karzai’s office said.

Karzai said last week that close to a month after Obama’s inauguration he still had not spoken with the US leader. Karzai spoke with former US president George W. Bush regularly, fueling speculation that Obama was sending a clear signal that Karzai’s standing with him was much lower.

The Afghan government welcomed Obama’s decision.

“It’s a positive move,” Afghan defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Is’haq Payman said.

“But we have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists,” he said.

Washington has grappled with rising tensions with Kabul over civilian casualties in military operations against insurgents.

A US general yesterday traveled to western Afghanistan to investigate claims that six women and two children were killed in a US airstrike, officials said.

The US coalition said in a statement that a strike on Monday in the Gozara district of Herat Province killed 15 militants, including a leader named Ghulam Yahya Akbari.

But Ekremuddin Yawar, a police commander for western Afghanistan, said six women and two children were among the dead, along with five men. He said the group was living in tents in the remote Afghan countryside.

In response to Yawar’s allegation, US Brigadier General Michael Ryan traveled to Gozara district yesterday to meet with officials “to see what the situation is,” said Captain Elizabeth Mathias, a US military spokeswoman.

Photographs obtained by The Associated Press from the strike site in Herat show the body of a young boy — bloodied and dirtied — laying on a white shroud. Afghan men can be seen digging about a dozen fresh graves. Dead sheep and destroyed tents can also be seen.