While all eyes are focused on Iraq and President Bush’s likely move toward a “surge” of troops there, American and NATO officials in Afghanistan also are requesting more troops and resources.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to visit NATO headquarters in Belgium for the first time next week, focusing talks on Afghanistan and Kosovo, according to news reports. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other NATO foreign ministers are also tentatively scheduled for a Jan. 26 meeting that would focus on the mission in Afghanistan.
And although the war in Afghanistan holds an almost secondary status to Iraq, U.S. commanders have issued a request for reinforcements against a resurgence of Taliban fighters.
American and NATO military officials have said the number of attacks this year against coalition forces has tripled from 2005, up from roughly 1,500 to 5,000.
The “surge” option in Iraq also could have a direct impact on the mission in Afghanistan. According to the Baltimore Sun, at least one Army battalion currently fighting in Afghanistan will be redeployed within weeks directly to Iraq.
The Sun also quoted U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata as saying the coalition expects major Taliban assaults in the coming weeks and months.
“We anticipate significant events [in Kandahar] next spring,” Tata was quoted as saying.
In a briefing to Pentagon reporters earlier this week, the head of the American mission training Afghan forces said a goal of more than 150,000 trained Afghan security forces by 2009 was within reach.
“The Afghan National Army presently has 36,000, and it is growing to 70,000. That will be combined with the Afghan National Police, which is currently at 50,000 and will grow to 82,000,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin. “And, yes, the program growth has us completing those thresholds or end states by the end of calendar year 2008.”
The biggest needs for the Afghan forces are “your basic infantry, individual and crew-serve weapons … so that they cannot just pick up the lead in the counterinsurgency, but also be able to conduct independent operations,” Durbin said, “meaning, that they are untethered from the support that the international community must provide.”