Commanders from U.S. seek more troops
Some U.S. officials say America shouldn't have to fill the demands.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Concerned by Taliban gains and worried about more violence, U.S. military commanders have recommended that more U.S. troops come to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Wednesday.
He did not say how many troops were requested. But other military officials have suggested that an additional 1,000 or 1,200 troops would help make up the shortfall in Afghanistan, especially considering the anticipated spring offensive. Gates, on his first visit to Afghanistan, indicated he would recommend a troop increase to President Bush.
"I think it is important that we not let this success here in Afghanistan slip away from us and that we keep the initiative," he told reporters traveling Wednesday aboard his aircraft, after leaving Afghanistan.
The extra troops would mean yet another stretch on the U.S. military, which is already pulled between two fronts and a new plan announced recently by President Bush to add 21,500 troops in Iraq. Troops are stretched so thin that Bush has agreed to ask Congress to increase the size of both the Army and the Marines, and many current soldiers have fought in both fronts in the war on terror, sometimes twice.
An increase for U.S. troops in Afghanistan would also add to concerns about the role of NATO, which has taken over most of the responsibilities for the war here. The Taliban has regrouped in the past year, making its biggest push against international and Afghan troops since fleeing power in late 2001. A reported 4,000 people died in the violence last year, the highest death toll so far.
Not meeting requests
Despite urgent pleas for more troops, though, NATO countries have not yet been able to meet the alliance's requests. Now, 11,000 of the 31,000 NATO troops are from the U.S. As many as 13,000 other U.S. troops are also in the country, training the Afghan army, building roads or hunting for terrorists.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan also has asked to extend the combat tour of about 1,200 soldiers already in the country, in preparation for the spring offensive by the Taliban.
Privately, some U.S. officials complained that America is being asked to meet demands in Afghanistan that the U.S. should not have to fill.
"That's what's disappointing," said one U.S. military official earlier this week, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Do we have to save the day here because NATO won't at least meet its obligation?"
Afghanistan is often seen as the good front in the war on terrorism, the winnable battle, as opposed to increasingly chaotic Iraq. But so far, there have not been enough troops to quash the Taliban. It isn't that NATO forces are losing the war; it's just that they do not yet have enough forces to win.
In an interview Wednesday, Lt. Gen. David Richards, the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, reiterated the need for more troops. He said there are no reserve soldiers for the war. For instance, in the troubled southern province of Helmand, about 5,000 British soldiers have faced an unrelenting battle, without any available substitutes.
Confession on video
Afghanistan ratcheted up the public relations war Wednesday, handing out video CDs with a confession of a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Taliban, captured Monday.
In the confession, Mohammed Hanif said that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, is living in the Pakistan frontier city of Quetta under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
Hanif also said the Taliban staged suicide and bombing attacks with the direct help of the ISI.
Hanif said Hamid Gul, the retired head of the ISI, was responsible for paying for an Islamic boarding school in the tribal area that trained suicide bombers.
Pakistan officials dismissed the charges.