More Equipment Needed in Afghanistan, U.S. Commander Says

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; 4:30 PM

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan today declined to say whether more American troops will be needed to confront increasing insurgent and terrorist attacks in the country.

But Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry said the United States should provide more military equipment to beef up Afghanistan's security forces.

"Now is a very appropriate time to increase the level of equipment, the sophistication of equipment," Eikenberry said at a Pentagon news conference with Afghan Minister of Defense Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Eikenberry said the United States should provide helicopters, Humvees, fixed-wing aircraft and protective helmets and body amour because the U.S.-trained Afghan Army has learned how to "operate this equipment effectively."

The United States has contributed about 20,000 of the 32,000 troops that support the 37-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization security mission in Afghanistan.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban government, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. U.S. allies supported that effort and over time, NATO has played a greater role in the conflict. In early October, NATO extended its military role to the entire country when it took over eastern Afghanistan from U.S.-led forces.

The question of whether more U.S. troops may be needed comes as some NATO members have shown reluctance to deepen their commitment to the conflict.

Asked point-blank if more U.S. troops might be needed, Eikenberry said it is "best at this point to wait and see what NATO is able to provide."

The number of insurgent and terrorist attacks has quadrupled in Afghanistan during the past year, causing 3,700 deaths since January, according to a recent report by a commission of Afghan and foreign officials.

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board also reported that this violence threatens to reverse recent economic and political gains Afghanistan has made, and it has led to a partial or total withdrawal of foreign aid in some provinces.

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair underscored Britain's military commitment to Afghanistan during a visit to a military camp in the country's southern Helmand province.

"Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the future in the early 21st century of the world community is ready to be played out, and you are the people that are doing the difficult work," Blair told British troops, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Later, at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Blair told reporters: "We have got to stay committed for as long as it takes for our own security, not just for the sake of the Afghan people."

In September, Eikenberry said the U.S. military planned no troop cuts in Afghanistan before March. He said Taliban fighters and extremists had grown more numerous and become better organized in some parts of the south and southeast, where foreign troops were limited and the Afghan government was weak.

Today, asked to describe efforts to capture Osama bin Laden, Eikenberry said: "The search for Osama bin Laden continues."

But bin Laden, he added, is only "one man in an international terrorist network."

"He has a significance of his own," Eikenberry said, "but still he is part of an international terrorist network that has to be attacked, as it is, in a very comprehensive manner."

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