NATO’s top commander on Thursday urged its member nations to send all of the troops and equipment they pledged to southern Afghanistan, saying the coming weeks could be “decisive” in the war against the Taliban and that more boots on the ground are needed.

Marine Gen. James L. Jones, speaking during a breakfast with reporters in Casteau, Belgium, said that Taliban guerrilla fighters have abandoned their hit-and-run tactics and are now fighting in the open.

“We have to give the commander additional insurance in terms of some forces that can be there, perhaps temporarily, to make sure that we can carry the moment,” Jones said.

“This is not reinforcement in the desperate sense,” Jones said in a later telephone press conference from Brussels with Pentagon reporters. “I do believe that even without [the extra troops, the commander] will be successful.”

Jones was scheduled on Friday and Saturday to meet in Warsaw, Poland, with NATO military leaders to request more assets. About 20,000 NATO troops are stationed in Afghanistan. Most of those in the south are British, Canadian and Dutch.

Jones said that only about 85 percent of the assets agreed to by NATO nations have been delivered. He did not say how many more troops, planes and helicopters he was asking for.

Jones said he is seeking “a squadron of armed helicopters, another two or three C-130s,” intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance equipment, and a tactical theater reserve force of “roughly battalion size.”

“The numbers are not that impressive. I would say it’s something on the order of 2,000” Jones said. “This is not something we don’t have in our inventories — it’s a question of nations stepping up to the plate and raising their hands and saying we’ll do that.”

The most difficult asset to secure is likely to be the helicopters, Jones said.

“The numbers are not important,” Jones said. “It’s the capability and the capacity it will bring.”

Fierce battles this week south of Kandahar have left dozens of Taliban and at least five NATO troops dead.

There are currently about 6,000 NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan’s southern region, where the situation is most dire, Jones said.

He said the Taliban’s willingness “to stand and fight … is somewhat new, as opposed to taking pot shots at the attacking forces and attacking schools.”

Since the enemy has chosen this tactic, Jones said, “a certain principal of mass comes into play. We feel we should capitalize on [their willingness to show themselves] and bring it to a swift conclusion.”

Jones said that the multinational NATO forces — which in July took over in the south from U.S.-led forces — are in a position to capitalize at a critical juncture in the nearly five-year-old war.

British army Lt. Gen. David Richards, NATO’s military commander in Afghanistan, previously has said he has enough troops to defeat the Taliban, according to Maj. Toby Jackman, a NATO spokesman in Kabul.

“Would [Richards] like more? Of course he would like more,” Jackman said. “We did expect there to be high levels of resistance and we trained and planned for that.

“The (U.S.-led) coalition did a fantastic job … but didn’t have the troop levels we have now,” Jackman added.

“We’re pushing out,” he said, repeating military commanders’ assertions that the increased violence was a result of coalition troops moving into territory in which they had not yet operated.

Jackman said more troops would enable more simultaneous offensives instead of one-at-a-time operations.

Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, a U.S. military spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-76 at Bagram, said allied forces have been assessing whether the Taliban intended to make a stand in their southern stronghold.

“We tried to employ forces to disrupt the buildup, but the enemy always has a vote,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Associated Press and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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