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ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan said he doesn’t expect a major Taliban offensive in his region this spring.

Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez said he based that assessment on progress by the Afghan government and security forces.

“The people of Afghanistan don’t want the Taliban back and the strength of their institutions has grown significantly in the last year,” said Rodriguez, who is also commander of Combined Joint Task Force-82.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Rodriguez made clear his comments were specifically about Regional Command East.

President Bush recently authorized sending about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, of which about 2,200 Marines will go to southern Afghanistan ahead of an anticipated Taliban spring offensive.

“There is a fighting season in Afghanistan, and so we’re getting those Marines there at the beginning of that fighting season,” said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Jan. 17 news conference. “We learned last year that if you’re there and ready to go in the spring, it makes a big difference.”

In other matters, Rodriguez said the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles that commanders in Afghanistan have requested would be used for patrols and convoy operations.

Asked what value the vehicles would provide to troops, given Afghanistan’s poor road network, Rodriguez said commanders looked at where the vehicles can operate.

“There are places they can’t go, but there are plenty of places they can go, and based on our analysis of the terrain, the roadways as well as where the IEDs are going off, we requested a little under 600 MRAPs. And the road network continues to improve, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to use those effectively in the majority of areas, not all,” Rodriguez said.

Defense officials are looking at sending to Afghanistan a number of one type of MRAP vehicle known as the RG-31, which the Army and Marine Corps were initially “not wild about buying,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.

“It turns out that was the right choice because that vehicle, because it’s slightly lighter, commanders in Afghanistan think it would be ideally suited for the terrain they say is there,” Morrell said, noting that 500 RG-31s had been

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