WASHINGTON – The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan offered a grim view Wednesday of military efforts in southern Afghanistan, warning that 17,000 new troops will take on emboldened Taliban insurgents who have “stalemated” U.S. and allied forces.
Army Gen. David McKiernan also predicted that the bolstered numbers of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan – about 55,000 in all – will remain near those levels for up to five years.
Still, McKiernan said, that is only about two-thirds of the number of troops he has requested to secure the war-torn nation.
McKiernan told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that the extra Army and Marine forces will be in place by the summer, primed for counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban but also ready to conduct training with Afghan police forces.
McKiernan said what the surge “allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are, at best, stalemated.
“I’m not here to tell you that there’s not an increased level of violence, because there is,” he said.
The 17,000 additional troops, which President Obama approved Tuesday to begin deploying this spring, will join an estimated 38,000 already in Afghanistan.
Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers could be headed to Afghanistan in the future as the Obama administration decides how to balance its troop levels with those from other nations and the Afghan army. The White House has said it will not make further decisions about its next moves in Afghanistan until it has completed a strategic review of the war, in tandem with the Afghan government.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Wednesday that the foreign ministers of those countries will travel to Washington next week to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials as the U.S. formulates a policy review.
Whatever the outcome of the review, McKiernan said, “we know we need additional means in Afghanistan, whether they are security or governance-related or socioeconomic-related.”