US Urges Allies To Ratchet Up Afghan Training Effort

The United States urged NATO allies to send thousands of trainers to help strengthen Afghan security forces and exploit a window of opportunity to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The request came as the top commander in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, said that security was no longer deteriorating but that the corner had not yet been turned in the battle against the insurgency.

“It is important that our allies contribute their forces to this cause in as timely a manner as possible just as we are,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters in Istanbul, Turkey, where NATO defence ministers were meeting.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was to press partners “to act as quickly as they can to get their forces into the fight because time is of the essence,” Morrell said.

“We need to seize that window of opportunity… and get the Afghan national security forces to the position they need to be to transition into a leadership role on the security side,” he said.

Nations in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have amassed around 40,000 extra troops and have begun deploying them in Afghanistan as part of a new counter-insurgency strategy.

ISAF’s ultimate success in implementing the strategy, fleshed out by McChrystal and which aims to protect civilians rather than hunt down fighters, hinges on its ability to train the national army and police.

Only when the Afghan forces are built to sufficient strength and skill can the more than 110,000 international troops fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked fighters start returning home.

ISAF wants to expand the Afghan army to 134,000 troops in October 2010 and 171,600 by October 2011, while the police numbers would expand from some 80,000 now, to 109,000 in October, and 134,000 the following October.

A senior US official said up to 1,700 instructors were needed for the police and army, while up to 2,500 additional mentors were required to work alongside the national security forces.

The US demand comes as thousands of Afghan and NATO troops prepare a major offensive in southern Afghanistan, the hub of the insurgency, in the biggest assault since President Barack Obama announced the surge in December.

McChrystal said the security situation in Afghanistan remained serious.

“I still will tell you that I believe the situation in Afghanistan is serious,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO talks.

“I do not say now that I think it’s deteriorating. I said that last summer and I believe that was correct. I feel differently now.

“The Taliban are making a significant effort to expand their influence. So is the government of Afghanistan, aided by us,” he added.

“I am not prepared to say that we have turned the corner, so I am saying that the situation is serious but I think we have made significant progress and set the conditions in 2009 and we’ll make new progress in 2010.”

The general, NATO’s senior commander in Afghanistan, has warned that the next 18 months could prove pivotal to turning around more than eight years of international efforts to bring stability.

“We’ve implemented a number of things inside ISAF command, we’ve partnered with our Afghan brothers, we have done a civilian uplift that has brought a lot of civilians with a lot of expertise on the ground,” McChrystal said.

He said those efforts were boosted by the fact that “a lot of soldiers from across the coalition, Afghan security forces, and a lot of other countries have fought hard.” AFP

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