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ARLINGTON, Va. — The insurgency in Afghanistan continues to pose serious problems, and Pentagon officials are bracing for a spike in violence during the buildup to Afghanistan’s provincial elections in September, senior DOD officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

“The insurgency remains persistent,” Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the Joint Staff’s director of strategic plans and policy, said during a June 22 House Armed Services Committee hearing on operations in Afghanistan.

After one of the most severe winters on record in Afghanistan, “we all expected the numbers of attacks to increase during the spring, and we have seen that happen,” Sharp said.

With plans on track for Afghans to go to the polls Sept. 18 to elect a national assembly and provisional councils, further solidifying Afghanistan’s newborn democracy, “I believe the insurgents are going to try very hard to do as much disruption of the [democratic] process” as possible, Sharp said.

“[They see this as] their last chance.”

However, Sharp added, “Overall, we remain on a positive glide path” in terms of progress in Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders do not believe they need to add to the 19,000 troops who are currently deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom, Sharp said.

But Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who has made 11 trips to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the U.S. attacked the Taliban in October 2001, said he is concerned that progress by U.S. troops in Afghanistan is being overshadowed by the situation in Iraq.

“Our men and women in Afghanistan continuously ask us not to forget them,” Reyes said, saying that he had heard that concern voiced as recently as December.

“We need to focus on making sure that they understand are not forgotten,” Reyes said. “It’s a real issue for all of us, as a country.”

Reyes said he is worried that U.S. troops are not receiving proper resources for their Enduring Freedom mission.

The lawmaker cited a recent conversation with two soldiers from El Paso, Texas, who are recovering from wounds at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio.

“They tell me that they are forced to carry large amounts of fuel on their vehicles because there isn’t any way to establish forward refueling depots,” Reyes said.

“It’s a very dangerous situation — in fact, that’s how [the recovering soldiers] got severely burned,” Reyes said. “They got hit with an RPG that incinerated their Humvee.”

Reyes also asked about what he said are reports that U.S. troops lack armor in Afghanistan.

“On the average, only one or two [Humvees] … in an 18- to 20-vehicle convoy are up-armored,” Reyes said. “Most of them are out there in thin-skinned vehicles.”

He added that troops “also tell me we don’t have … any tanks in Afghanistan, and that is a concern to them.”

Sharp did not directly address Reyes’ concerns, prompting the lawmaker to ask for more information in writing.

“We’ll get that back to you,” Sharp responded.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, joined Sharp in the three-star’s prediction of election violence.

“We see the Taliban split and demoralized,” Rodman said. “But other elements, the hard core, probably will continue to fight, so we have to be realistic.”

Rodman said that he expects “a spike in the violence” as Afghans throughout the country prepare to go to the polls.

“We see some signs of it already,” Rodman said.

Rodman also voiced concerns about Afghanistan’s drug trade, saying it “remains a threat to stability and progress in Afghanistan.”

The United States is pouring millions into efforts to eliminate Afghanistan’s heroin trade, Sharp said: In fiscal 2004, U.S. taxpayers spent $73 million on counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, a figure that has more than tripled in fiscal 2005, to $242 million.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he asked the committee to hold Wednesday’s hearing because he is concerned that Afghanistan might become “the forgotten front.”

“There seems to be more positive [advances] than severe challenges there, though we should not discount that we have had a long way to go,” Skelton said.

“Going to Afghanistan was the right thing to do, and now we have to finish what we started.”


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