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Up to 9,000 Marines set to start deployment to Afghanistan
Already there is cause for concern. The Afghan government appears likely to commit only 60 percent of the troops that Marine and local Afghan commanders estimate that they need for the assault, a senior Marine official in Helmand said. That means more Marines will probably have to be posted in the city after the initial attack to ensure that the Taliban does not return.
"To have American Marines standing on a corner in a key village isn't nearly as effective as having an Afghan policeman or Afghan soldier," Conway said.
Karzai intervened to halt an attack into Marjeh by U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan troops this year after residents in the area complained of excessive civilian casualties, senior military officials said. The coming assault on the city will be a measure of Karzai's willingness to buck allies with ties to the opium industry, these officials said.
The other major area of concern is whether the Afghan government and the U.S. military can meet the aggressive new growth targets laid out for the Afghan army and police force in the Obama administration's war strategy. "We have to increase recruiting. We have to increase retention, and we have to decrease attrition this year," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who leads the U.S. training effort in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
The administration's new plans for the Afghan army and police, which will probably be a heavy focus of Tuesday's speech, call for increasing the size of the army to about 134,000 troops by October, four years earlier than the initial goal of 2014. To meet that target, the Afghan Defense Ministry must bring in about 5,000 new recruits a month and dramatically cut attrition in battalions.
This month, the ministry missed its monthly recruiting goal by more than 2,000 troops.
Afghan soldiers and police officers were recently given a 40 percent pay increase, but it is too early to tell whether the extra money will fix the recruiting problem, U.S. officials said.
"The extra pay literally brought us to parity with what the Taliban are offering," a senior military official in Kabul said.