KABUL (AFP) — The top US commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday he needed more than 10,000 combat troops to fight the insurgency, in addition to those committed last week by US President George W. Bush.
David McKiernan, the highest-ranking US general here and commander of the NATO-led force, made the comments to reporters, as he met with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Afghan capital.
The appeal for more troops comes in response to what commanders say is an intensifying Taliban and suspected Al-Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan and calls for a new strategy that deals with their safe havens in Pakistan.
While Gates met over dinner with McKiernan, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, travelled to Pakistan for talks.
McKiernan told reporters that, while the insurgents were not winning, "It's going to take a while to defeat this insurgency."
The general said he required at least three more combat brigades and support forces on top of the combat brigade that Bush announced would be diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan in January.
He said an estimate of 10,000 more troops was "probably on the low side."
"When I first got here I said that would be a good, valid requirement. Plus I also asked for immediate forces right now because our fight in the east is sharper than predicted some months ago. It's a tougher fight."
Currently, there are about 33,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Without additional ground forces, he said, "the danger is we'll be here longer and we'll expend more resources and experience more human suffering than if we have more resources sooner."
McKiernan said violent attacks have gone up 30 percent over the last year and that the insurgents have adapted their tactics.
The general attributed the rising violence to a coalescing of insurgent forces, a move by NATO forces into new areas, and turmoil in Pakistan that has strengthened the militants.
Asked whether the safe havens in Pakistan was the biggest factor driving the insurgency, McKiernan demurred but said, "It's probably the hardest one to get at."
He said the requirement for three more combat brigades had been accepted in Washington. "So it's not a question of if but when."
"I don't like to use the word surge for Afghanistan because I think what we need are increased capabilities on a sustained basis, not a temporary basis."
In addition to troops, more intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance assets were needed, including signal intelligence, overhead imagery and full motion video beamed down from surveillance platforms.
Gates has pressed to get more surveillance assets to Afghanistan and Iraq, and officials said he would be shown existing capabilities during his visit here.
Gates also wanted a first hand account of the use of close air support, a source of intense friction with the Afghan government and public in the wake of a series of high profile incidents in which civilians were killed.
In the worst such case, Afghan and UN officials have charged that 90 civilians, including many women and children, were killed August 22 in an air strike in western Iraq after a firefight involving US and Afghan troops.
McKiernan told reporters that he issued a directive September 2 tightening and re-emphasizing the procedures and rules on the use of lethal force.
"We have revised and continue to review our procedures for the application of lethal force, and I've issued a just revised tactical directive that tries to be very measured in how we apply lethal force," he said.
"Probably ninety percent of it is a reemphasis of procedures we already have in place," he said.
A US military investigation found that only five to seven civilians were killed in the attack, along with 30 insurgents, but McKiernan asked for a review of the investigation after cellphone imagery came to light that called its conclusions into question.
McKiernan said the aim of the revised directive was to reduce further casualties, but he emphasized that in a counter-insurgency campaign in which insurgents hide among the populace some civilian casualties were unavoidable.
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