More Troops Urged For Afghanistan

Members of the NATO led Coalition force in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006.
AP
NATO's top commander, Gen. James L. Jones, on Thursday called for allied nations to send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan, saying the coming weeks could be decisive in the fight against the Taliban.

Jones will meet top generals from the 26 NATO nations Friday and Saturday in Warsaw, Poland, in an attempt to generate hundreds of troops, with planes and helicopters needed for the mission.

"We have to give the commander additional insurance in terms of some forces that can be there, perhaps temporarily, to make sure that we can carry the moment," he said.

Jones acknowledged that NATO had been surprised by the "level of intensity" of Taliban attacks since the alliance moved into the southern region in July and by the fact the insurgents were prepared to stand and fight rather than deploy their usual hit-and-run tactics.

On Thursday, Taliban militants took over a police station in the remote southern town of Garmser in Helmand province after officers fled for a second time in two months, police said. Taliban forces briefly held the town for two days in July before coalition troops retook it.

Jones said, however, that he was confident that NATO troops could win the war.

"In the relatively near future, certainly before the winter, we will see this decisive moment in the region turn in favor of the troops that represent the government," Jones said at NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium.

He told reporters he was confident the meeting in Warsaw would muster helicopters, transport planes and several hundred "flexible" reserve troops able to move quickly around the region in support of the operation against the Taliban.

"It will help us to reduce casualties and bring this to a successful conclusion in a short period of time," he said. "This is not a desperate move, it is more of an insurance package."

Jones said he wanted to "destroy" Taliban fighters now confronting the NATO mission before they head back into the mountains with the onset of winter within the next few weeks.

Although Jones said he was confident allies would respond to his appeal at the Warsaw meeting, he did acknowledge that nations have been reluctant to commit troops to the NATO force, which has sustained increasing casualties in the last weeks.

NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer backed Jones' call for allies to strengthen the NATO force, which currently has about 20,000 troops.

"All allies should think how they can help," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels.

Jones criticized the international community for not matching the military effort in Afghanistan with more economic help, assistance building up the police and judicial services and, in particular, help Afghan authorities tackle the country's burgeoning narcotics problem.

"The future of Afghanistan will not be determined by the military," he said.

He complained that aid programs to Afghanistan were "in some stage of life support" and insisted civilian aid was vital to stabilize the country and enable an exit strategy for the international military force.

Since January, 21 NATO troops have died and there have been an equal number of accidental deaths, Jones said. The casualty rate has shot up since NATO forces took control of southern Afghanistan in August, replacing a much smaller U.S. military operation in the region and placing large numbers of international troops in the Taliban's heartland.

"It's something akin to poking a bee hive and the bees are now swarming," Jones said. "The violence that is ensuing is a contest that's going to decide in which way that region is going to go."

Jones said Taliban casualties "far outweigh" those suffered by NATO and he questioned whether the insurgents would be able to maintain their attacks.

"I do not think that ... they have an unlimited amount of people," he said. "They are not going to take casualties at this rate for a long period of time."