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Obama Plans More Funding For Afghan War
While additional U.S. combat troops will enhance the ability of the multinational coalition force to hold ground in southern Afghanistan's Taliban strongholds, increased training and equipping of Afghan security forces is the ultimate exit strategy for the United States and NATO, administration officials said.
Afghanistan's defense minister has said he plans to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2011, but coalition forces until now have been unable to provide trainers and mentors, equipment and transport for the existing force.
The extra 4,000 U.S. troops, expected to deploy in early fall, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the Army's vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10-to-14-member advisory teams, a Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.
"The change couldn't be more dramatic," said retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank. "The 82nd Airborne Division is the nation's shock force."
"We want to move as aggressively and as quickly as possible to build up the Afghan national army," one administration official said. "It's much cheaper in the long run to train Afghans to fight" than to send U.S. forces "halfway around the world."
The total of 21,000 new troops, added to a combat brigade authorized by the Bush administration and deployed in January, will exceed the 30,000 that Gen. David D. McKiernan, the U.S. and NATO commander, had requested for this year in Afghanistan and will bring the total U.S. force to more than 60,000. Non-U.S. NATO troops there currently total about 32,000.
The new strategy will also include efforts to draw low-level Taliban fighters -- but not the insurgent leadership -- into reconciliation talks with the Afghan government. "We're not in the business of negotiating with Mullah Omar, and Mullah Omar doesn't want to negotiate with us," an official said. "But we think there are fractures" in the Taliban forces, he said. The goal is to "break the momentum of the Taliban in the next fighting season" that begins this spring and begin to exploit the fractures.
The administration's director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, estimated yesterday that as many as two-thirds of the Taliban groups are motivated by local concerns and might be defeated or pacified through addressing problems such as inadequate water supplies or access to education.
Staff writers Greg Jaffe and Joby Warrick contributed to this report.