US Wants NATO Troops to Stay Longer in Afghanistan

11 August 2009

ISAF soldiers patroling the outskirts of Feyzabad, northern Afghanistan (file photo)
ISAF soldiers patroling the outskirts of Feyzabad, northern Afghanistan (file photo)
The Pentagon Tuesday called on NATO allies and other countries with troops in Afghanistan to maintain their current higher troop levels even after next week's presidential election.

Several allied countries have increased their troop presence in Afghanistan to help provide security for the election, and those troops are expected to go home once it is over.

But on Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell called on those countries to maintain the higher troop levels beyond the August 20 election day.

"It would certainly be our hope that when it comes time for these countries to reevaluate the departure dates of their troops that were sent over in large part to enhance security leading up to the elections that they would reconsider that decision and keep them there longer in the hopes of making a longer-term contribution to the security situation there,"
 he said.

A Pentagon official estimated that allies added between 5,000 and 6,000 troops to help with election security, and said U.S. officials have been asking their counterparts in other countries to have the troops stay.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior officials have repeatedly urged allies to send more troops, and to eliminate restrictions on how their forces can be used. Currently, the Pentagon says the United States has 62,000 troops in Afghanistan and other countries have about 39,000 troops there, including the election surge. But many of the NATO troops are not allowed to engage in combat operations or even to operate in violent parts of the country.

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal (file photo)
Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal (file photo)
This week, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told the Wall Street Journal Taliban forces are "a very aggressive enemy right now," and that his forces need "to stop their momentum" and "initiative." The general described the effort as "hard work."

Several civilian experts General McChrystal invited to help with an assessment of the situation have said they recommended he ask for more U.S. troops. The current level is already nearly double what the United States had in Afghanistan last year, and some officials, including Secretary Gates, have expressed reluctance to send more. But Pentagon officials caution that the general's analysis is not finished and will not likely be made public until next month.