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AFGHANISTAN NATO leader reports need for more troops



Published: Fri, September 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



More troops would help end the conflict sooner, the general said.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- NATO's top military commander said Thursday that he needs more troops to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, where a widening insurgency has left hundreds dead, including 21 militants in the alliance's latest air and ground attacks.

U.S. Gen. James L. Jones acknowledged NATO had been surprised by the "level of intensity" of Taliban attacks since the alliance took over from American-led coalition forces in the south in August.

Iraq-style suicide bombings, highly organized ambushes and dogged resistance have become hallmarks of Taliban holdouts who are fueling Afghanistan's worst violence since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hard-line regime in late 2001.

NATO officials say current troop levels are enough to combat militants in southern deserts and mountain ranges, or crossing from neighboring Pakistan. But the vast battlefield in the south provides ample cover for insurgents familiar with the terrain and the region's tribes. Additional air support and as many as 2,500 new, highly mobile reserve troops would help finish the conflict faster, the officials said.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged Thursday that al-Qaida and Taliban militants are crossing from his country to launch attacks in Afghanistan, but he denied his government sponsored them.

"You blame us for what is happening in Afghanistan," Musharraf told Afghan government and army officials and lawmakers after an anti-terror summit in Kabul with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. He said neither the government of Pakistan nor its intelligence service "is involved in any kind of interference inside Afghanistan."

Jones, speaking in Belgium after a visit to Afghanistan, said NATO needed "additional insurance in terms of some forces that can be there, perhaps temporarily, to make sure that we can carry the moment."

That could take the form of helicopters, transport planes and "flexible" reserve troops able to move quickly to support NATO forces battling militants.

How many?

Jones later told reporters at the Pentagon by telephone that he was seeking roughly 2,000 to 2,500 extra NATO troops for the south. He said they would bring the NATO contribution up to 100 percent -- up from 85 percent -- of the force level pledged by allied governments before the southern deployment. There are now about 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Jones said he was confident that generals from the 26 NATO nations, meeting today and Saturday in Warsaw, Poland, would authorize the reinforcements.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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