Julian Barnes, Washington
A DAY after US President Barack Obama ordered new soldiers and marines to Afghanistan, the top US commander there said he might need more troops in coming months to bolster a war effort that could last an additional five years.
General David McKiernan plans to use the 17,000 soldiers and marines being sent by Mr Obama to try to break an impasse in fighting with the Taliban in the southern part of the country.
“What this allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are at best stalemated,” General McKiernan said.
The new deployments, raising the overall US troop level to about 55,000, would fulfil needs until Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election, he said. But he held open the possibility of additional troop requests. The next requests are likely to include a training brigade, needed to help double the size of Afghan security forces to 135,000, and another combat detachment from the army or marines.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the Administration would not consider further troop requests until a strategy review was completed in April. Mr Gates, who is travelling to a NATO meeting in Poland, also said he planned to press allies this week to follow the US example.
“It is a new administration, and the Administration is prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan,” Mr Gates said. “But there will clearly be expectations the allies must do more as well.”
Leading ally Britain has already said it has no plans to send extra troops to Afghanistan.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on a visit to Kabul that Britain was already paying a high financial and human cost for its role in the conflict. He said high casualty rates had “traumatised” Britain and that the US decision to send reinforcements needed to be matched with economic and political change.
His comments were seen as an attempt to put pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.