Gates: more troops for Afghanistan —with caveats

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sept. 23 the Pentagon could send thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan starting next spring—but also warned: “I think we need to think about how heavy a military footprint the United States ought to have in Afghanistan. Are we better off channeling resources into building and expanding the size of the Afghan national army as quickly as possible, as opposed to a much larger Western footprint in a country that has never been notoriously hospitable to foreigners?” There are now some 31,000 US troops in Afghanistan and roughly an equal number of coalition troops. (AP, Sept. 23)

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of US forces in eastern Afghanistan, warned days earlier that the Taliban could be preparing an unprecedented winter offensive—breaking with the pattern of fighting in the spring and summer and regrouping (in recent years across the border in Pakistan) when snows clog the mountain passes. “The insurgents are attempting to remain in numbers in Afghanistan over the winter.” In preparation, Schloesser has undertaken when he called a “development surge”—building and repairing roads to bring military forces to remote conflicted regions. The principal reconstruction effort is construction of a highway linking Khost province, the mountains along the Pakistan border, to Gardez south of the capital Kabul. (Washington Independent, Sept. 23) Khost’s capital was the scene of a bomb attack on Afghan Independence Day last month that left 10 Afghan laborers dead at a US military outpost. (The Australian, Aug. 19)

See our last post on Afghanistan.