NATO military commanders told US President Barack Obama’s envoy on Sunday that they needed more troops and other resources to beat back a resurgent Taliban, particularly in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
The Taliban has made inroads in recent months in many areas that US forces thought they had stabilized. The deteriorating security has increased pressure on the Obama administration to consider sending more forces into the fight, a move that could prove a hard sell with the US Congress and the American public.
US Major General Curtis Scaparotti, commander of forces in eastern Afghanistan, said he told US envoy Richard Holbrooke that veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani had expanded his reach in several areas in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.
“Haqqani is the central threat. We’ve seen that expansion and that’s part of what we’re fighting,” Scaparotti told reporters after the meeting.
The US military has launched big offensives against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, but officials acknowledge that more attention may need to be paid to the increasingly unstable eastern provinces.
It is unclear how much room Obama has to maneuver.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting and just a quarter say more troops should be sent there.
US senators visiting Kabul said they told Afghan President Hamid Karzai and members of his Cabinet on Sunday that US patience was running out.
“I conveyed to Karzai that there’s going to come a time when the patience of Americans will run out,” US Senator Robert Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said.
Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who was part of the same delegation, said: “Time is not running out next week. But they have to show results. It’s the last chance.”
Some military officials contend that there are a growing number of Uzbek and other foreign fighters among the Taliban in border areas.
Asked about the presence of Uzbek fighters, one commander said his men had never found one, alive or dead, but added: “I’m pretty sure they are there.”
US officials increasingly see the fight against the Taliban as a “single battlefield” that runs from Afghanistan into the tribal areas of Pakistan.
While welcoming Pakistan’s offensive against militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, some US officials are concerned that Islamabad will put off indefinitely a push into the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban fighters led by Baitullah Mehsud.
Mehsud is widely believed to have been killed this month in a missile strike by a US pilotless drone aircraft.
Scaparotti said Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and their subordinates “routinely go to Pakistan to be safe” and to resupply their forces.
“We hope that they keep up the pressure,” he said of a prospective Pakistani operation in Waziristan.
Holbrooke also met US and allied commanders in southern, western and northern Afghanistan.
In the city of Herat, the commander of Italian forces, General Rosario Castellano, said he told Holbrooke that the Iranian border was “very porous” and neither he nor Afghan authorities had enough guards to prevent arms smuggling. He said the Afghans have only 170 guards to protect a border that stretches nearly 1,000km.
In the north, one commander said progress was being made but that Taliban activity had increased in some areas such as Kunduz.
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