Friday, September 5, 2008

US General: More Troops Needed to Speed Up Progress in Afghanistan

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2008 -- Though U.S., coalition and Afghan troops are making steady progress against increasingly active insurgent forces in Afghanistan, it’s time to turn up the heat, a senior U.S. military officer said today.

“I believe that more forces are required. And I think that over the next several months we can put them, certainly, to good use,” Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and 101st Airborne Division, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.

Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have increased 20 to 30 percent from 2007 to now, said Schloesser, who arrived in Afghanistan in April and also heads counterinsurgency operations for NATO’s Regional Command East.

Discussions about increasing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan are ongoing among senior leaders in Washington, Schloesser acknowledged.

“We’re making some steady progress” in Afghanistan, Schloesser pointed out. However, defeating the estimated 7,000 to 11,000 insurgents there “will take longer the way we are doing it right now, as far as the resources that we have,” he said.

“I’d like to speed it up,” Schloesser said of the anti-insurgent campaign’s pace in Afghanistan. He estimated that a troop increase on the order of “a series of thousands” would be of sufficient size.

“I’m going to ask for more troops. I think it’s pretty commonly known that I already have,” Schloesser said. “And, I’m optimistic that we’ll potentially see them in the coming months.”

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan consists of about 45,000 troops, including around 15,000 U.S. troops. Another 19,000 or so U.S. troops are assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, commanded by Schloesser.

Arrayed against U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan is a loosely knit collection of terrorists, Schloesser said, who share a radical Islamic ideology and the belief that President Hamid Karzai’s democratic government is illegitimate.

“Again, this is not a huge, strong movement; it is not a team,” Schloesser said of the polyglot enemy operating in Afghanistan, which includes Taliban extremists, Pakistan-based radicals and al-Qaida-aligned terrorists. “There are ways to break it apart.”

To put added pressure on insurgents in Afghanistan, Schloesser is preparing a two-pronged winter campaign.

“This campaign has got two components. One of them is a strong military offensive and the other is a developmental surge,” Schloesser said. Recent anti-insurgent operations in Khowst province and elsewhere in Afghanistan, he said, have eliminated some key extremist leaders and uncovered numerous enemy supply and weapons caches.

The winter offensive will root out the enemy “where he hides,” the general said.

“We will pursue them wherever they run. We will intercept them, and we’re going to destroy their resources,” Schloesser said. “My intent is to eliminate the support areas within our sector to diminish the enemy’s ability to operate next year.”

The development part of the winter campaign will feature projects designed to keep young Afghans occupied during this winter and through the spring and summer, Schloesser said.

“They’ll be doing things such as clearing ice and snow from roads, doing construction training workshops, road maintenance, distribution of essentials to villages that are basically isolated, such as clothes and food,” the general explained.

The purpose of the development portion of the winter campaign, Schloesser said, is to provide employment for the people most vulnerable to insurgent recruiting pitches. This program, he said, will also provide roads, wells, schools, clinics, micro-hydroelectric plants and more in remote areas of Afghanistan that have lacked modern infrastructure.

This year, nearly $480 million in Commanders Emergency Response Program money has been committed to fund such projects in Afghanistan, Schloesser said, noting that’s double the amount committed last year.

“We’re trying to match the power we have here, both the hard power … as far as the [military] operations that we’re going to do on the ground with our troops, as well as soft power, and that’s the CERP, then, the development funds that I’ve talked about,” Schloesser explained.

Meanwhile, there is “absolutely no way” that the enemy will triumph in Afghanistan, Schloesser declared.

“We’re not losing this war, and we won’t lose [it even if additional troops] don’t show up in the next several months,” Schloesser said.

(Story by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.)

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