Gen.: More troops needed in Afghanistan

September 16, 2008 10:50:34 AM PDT
Even after an extra U.S. Army brigade joins the fight against the insurgency in Afghanistan next January, three times that many reinforcements will be needed shortly thereafter, the highest-ranking U.S. general here said Tuesday.Gen. David McKiernan, commander of NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan, told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the war is being fought with insufficient resources and that if more troops are not forthcoming, the fighting will last longer and take a higher toll.

He disputed the notion that the U.S. and NATO war strategy has failed and needs to be overhauled.

"Our strategy of approaching counterinsurgency operations is a valid strategy here," McKeirnan said. "Our problem is we don't have enough resources to do it with." The general added that he was referring not only to insufficient military forces but also shortcomings in Afghan governance and a shortage of international economic aid.

McKiernan spoke with reporters before meeting privately with Gates, who was making his first visit to Afghanistan since December. McKiernan said the Army brigade arriving in January fills an urgent short-term need based on an assessment that fighting in eastern Afghanistan is tougher than believed six months ago.

"There are an additional three brigade combat teams" that have been validated by the Pentagon as a requirement, McKiernan said. He would not say exactly how many extra soldiers that entails, but said that it was more than 10,000 - beyond the roughly 3,700 in reinforcements that are scheduled to arrive in January.

There currently are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about 146,000 in Iraq.

McKiernan was asked what the consequence would be of not getting the three combat brigades he believes are needed in 2009 beyond the one Bush is sending in January.

"The danger is that we'll be here longer and we'll expend more resources and experience more human suffering than if we had more resources placed against this campaign sooner," he said.

Gates arrived in the Afghan capital Tuesday evening after presiding at a ceremony in Baghdad where Gen. Ray Odierno took over for Gen. David Petraeus as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Gates was meeting over dinner in Kabul with McKiernan and was to hold talks with senior Afghan officials on Wednesday.

More U.S. forces have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year than in all of 2007 as a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency has adopted bolder and often deadlier tactics. U.S. officials say the insurgency cannot win a conventional war, but its persistence has left U.S. and NATO leaders seeking reinforcements and has eroded the credibility of Afghanistan's fragile elected government.

McKiernan said he had no doubt that the insurgency could not win in Afghanistan, but he did not say U.S. forces are assured of victory, either.

"We are not losing, but we are winning slower in some places than others," he said.

In the interview, McKiernan also disclosed that he recently issued a revised order meant to govern the tactics and procedures followed by U.S. forces when engaging in air and ground fights against the insurgents. The revision, issued Sept. 2, was in response to a series of attacks that resulted in civilian deaths - most notably the highly publicized allegations that a U.S. attack on an Afghan village compound on Aug. 22 killed as many as 90 Afghan civilians, including women and children. The U.S. military has disputed the allegation but also has launched a new investigation in light of emerging evidence.

McKiernan said 90 percent of his new directive is meant to re-emphasize existing procedures.

"We've put an increased focus on partnering with Afghan security forces," he said in explaining the main change. "In other words, we want to run more and more operations that are combined operations with the Afghan army and/or the Afghan police. That's probably a new emphasis on this tactical directive."

McKiernan said U.S. forces are attentive to the corrosive consequences of failing to protect the Afghan civilian population, but he acknowledged that it is almost inevitable that some civilians will be killed inadvertently.

"There is a fog of war, especially in a counterinsurgency where our adversary doesn't wear a uniform. Secondly, Afghanistan is a huge country. It's very geographically complex and we don't have sufficient forces here, so there is a greater reliance on air power," he said.


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