ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan said he needs a reserve force to be sent where they are most needed.

“I’m unabashed about saying that I do need that reserve force, because at the moment, if there’s a problem or an opportunity, I find it sometimes hard to mitigate on the one hand and exploit on the other, and just one battalion group — properly equipped — would be a priceless asset,” said British Gen. David Richards.

Richards commands about 31,000 NATO troops, including about 12,000 U.S. troops.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Richards said he may be able to create such a reserve force from troops within theater after about 1,000 Polish troops arrive in Afghanistan early next year.

He said the summer was tough for NATO forces in Afghanistan, but they managed to deal the Taliban a psychological blow with Operation Medusa, a fight with Taliban that began in September in the vicinity of Kandahar.

“We’re getting by. We’ve stabilized the situation here this fall, but we could have done even better with that asset,” Richards said.

British troops pulled out of a troubled district in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, while fighting across the country killed 44 suspected Taliban militants, officials said.

Mark Laity, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, said the troops were leaving Helmand province’s Musa Qala district because it had been 35 days since the last major clash. They would leave Afghan security forces in charge.

Musa Qala has been one of the most volatile regions of Helmand, where about 4,000 British troops who deployed to the province in the spring have met with stiffer resistance than expected from resurgent Taliban militants.

“It actually proves that there’s been an improved security situation because we are able to hand over to Afghan police,” said a spokeswoman at Britain’s Ministry of Defence, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, heavy fighting continued Tuesday. A U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed a suspected midlevel Taliban commander and up to 15 other militants in southern Uruzgan province. Three 500-pound bombs were dropped early Tuesday on a compound in the Khod Valley in support of a NATO-led operation targeting a group of militants who had previously ambushed NATO and Afghan troops, an alliance statement said.

Afghan army forces battled insurgents near the eastern border with Pakistan for nearly five hours, in a clash that left 24 suspected militants and one soldier dead, said Gen. Mohammed Zair Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman. The two sides fought with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns in the Barmal district of eastern Paktika province, Azimi said, adding that five suspected insurgents were wounded but escaped, while three others were detained, Azimi said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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