US to send 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan


Washington : The US military is preparing for a build-up of as many as 20,000 troops next year in Afghanistan to step up the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency, a top US commander said Friday.

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The military has started building housing, latrines and other infrastructure needed to support the increase, Major General Michael Tucker, the deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference.

The first troops will begin arriving in January, Tucker said. Although the winter usually results in a slow down in fighting because it is more difficult for the insurgents to operate, US forces were anticipating “a very active winter,” Tucker said.

“If he wants to continue to fight through the winter, we’ll be here to fight him,” he said.

Pentagon officials have said they will begin shifting troops to Afghanistan as conditions in in Iraq continue to improve and forces begin leaving. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to move troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, which has seen an upswing in violence in the last two years.

US and NATO forces have been unable to snuff out the ability of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to slip across the rugged mountainous border with Pakistan to carry out attacks. Other NATO countries have been reluctant to send more troops and the stretched US military has fewer soldiers available to send.

The Pentagon is currently reviewing the strategy in Afghanistan and is expected to announce a revised approach in the weeks ahead designed for improved counterinsurgency operations, reaching out to tribal leaders and better tackle the cast rural areas of the country.

The new plan could be similar to the “troop surge” strategy in Iraq that has helped to sharply reduce violence, but Tucker said the buildup was not modelled entirely after Iraq.

“It’s not necessarily a surge as much as it is a reinforcement,” he said. “Our intent is to shore up security so that we can set the conditions for governance to take hold.”

There are more than 30,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan, about half of them are under NATO’s command.