Gates to consider more troops for Afghanistan

By Andrew Gray
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 9:32 AM

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday he would consider more troops for Afghanistan where U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency, controlled from Pakistan, is expected to intensify.

Gates, in Afghanistan to ensure commanders have the resources to counter an expected Taliban offensive in the spring, said it was very important the United States and its allies did not let the success achieved there slip away.

Violence in Afghanistan increased last year to its bloodiest since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

U.S. military commanders said attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan had surged, several-fold in some areas.

Gates said he had discussed the situation with the commander of Afghanistan's NATO force, General David Richards, and others.

Asked if the commanders had made a case for more troops, Gates said: "Yes."

"They've indicated what they can do with different force levels," Gates told reporters at the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, at Bagram, north of Kabul, adding he would take those ideas back to the U.S. joint chiefs of staff for study.

"At that point I'll make a recommendation to the president," said Gates, who arrived in Afghanistan late on Monday on his first trip to the country since taking over as defense secretary.

Asked how many more troops might be sent, he said: "It depends on different scenarios and those are the kinds of decisions that we're going to have to look at."

There are more than 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, the highest level since 2001, about 22,000 of them American.

Separately, NATO said on Wednesday its forces had arrested a senior Taliban commander in a raid in the south of the country, while a Taliban spokesman arrested near the Pakistani border this week told interrogators Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar was in Pakistan.

Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed three Afghan soldiers in the southeastern province of Khost as President Hamid Karzai was visiting a nearby area, officials said.

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