Vice President Joe Biden on Afghanistan: More U.S. troop deaths likely
Strategy shift ahead, he says
By Peter Wallsten | Washington Bureau
10:08 PM CST, January 25, 2009
Vice President Joe Biden, in a somber assessment of the road ahead, predicted Sunday that American casualties would climb in Afghanistan as the Obama administration shifts military priorities in the battle against terrorism.
"We've inherited a real mess" in Afghanistan, Biden said. "We're about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that's been effectively lost. … All of this means we're going to be engaging the enemy more now."
In one of his first major foreign policy decisions, President Barack Obama has decided to confront an increasingly aggressive challenge from the Taliban by trimming U.S. forces in Iraq and bolstering the troop commitment in Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan reflects an earlier decision by the Bush administration and its allies to limit military involvement there"a decision that has opened the way for a resurgent Taliban that now rules unchallenged in much of the countryside and stages effective hit-and-run attacks even on the urban areas where U.S. and other forces are concentrated.
Obama has pledged to deploy some 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan in an Iraq-like "surge" designed to impose security in towns that have essentially gone lawless.
That is a major increase, but the current force numbers only about 32,000"far smaller than the roughly 140,000 serving in Iraq and only a fraction of what experts say would be needed to dominate the region.
Add to this Afghanistan's long history of successful resistance to outsiders.
It was against this grim background that Biden, asked whether Obama's surge in Afghanistan would lead to more American casualties, said:
"I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an uptick."
The vice president did not provide details of how the additional forces would be used, beyond saying they would help train Afghan police and try to reclaim land. He did not say how many forces might be sent to the border with Pakistan, where many militants move easily back and forth across the rugged terrain and where Al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding.
Biden reiterated Obama's statements during the campaign that he would strike within Pakistan if there were "actionable intelligence."
Pentagon Plans to Send More Than 12,000 Additional Troops to Afghanistan
The U.S. commander there, in an exclusive interview, calls for a further buildup to counter the Taliban
By Anna Mulrine
Posted August 19, 2008
The Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.
A request by Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, for three U.S. brigades with support staff has been approved. "Now that means we just need to figure out a way to get them there," adds a senior defense official.....
Wed Feb 4, 3:10 am ET
WASHINGTON " Sharing a grim view of developments in Afghanistan, top Pentagon military leaders are recommending that President Barack Obama overhaul U.S. strategy there.
A report prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff advises focusing more on squeezing Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries inside neighboring Pakistan while de-emphasizing longer-term goals for bolstering democracy.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen the report, but it has not yet been presented to the White House, officials said Tuesday. It is one piece of a broad policy reassessment under way, along with recommendations from the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, and other military leaders.
A senior defense official said Tuesday that it would probably be several weeks before the Obama administration rolls out its long-term strategy for Afghanistan. Obama is likely very soon, however, to approve a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for three more U.S. combat brigades, numbering roughly 14,000 troops.
Obama said Tuesday night in an interview with NBC News' Brian Williams that there is already "convergence between myself and the Joint Chiefs and my national security team about what we have to do." Obama added that "there's a shared view that Afghanistan is getting worse, not getting better."
"Afghanistan is really hard," Obama told NBC. "And we're going to have to bring all the elements of American power to bear in order to solve the problems."
The Joint Chiefs' plan reflects growing worries that the U.S. military was taking on more than it could handle in Afghanistan by pursuing the Bush administration's broad goal of nurturing a thriving democratic government.
The plan calls for a more narrowly focused counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan and operations to root out militant strongholds along the Pakistani border and inside the neighboring country, according to officials who confirmed the essence of the classified report. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan publicly.
The recommendations are broadly cast and provide limited detail, meaning to help develop the overarching strategy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region rather than propose a detailed military action plan.
During a news conference Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted ongoing reviews of Afghan policy but did not say when they would be made public. Obama intends to "evaluate the current direction of our policy and make some corrections as he goes forward," Gibbs said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not comment Tuesday on the details of the Joint Chiefs' report but acknowledged that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is a critical component for success in Afghanistan.
Part of the recommended approach is to search for ways to work more intensively and effectively with the Pakistanis to root out extremist elements in the border area, the senior defense official said.
The heightened emphasis on Pakistan reflects a realization that the root of the problem lies in the militant havens inside its border " a concern outlined last week to Congress in grim testimony by Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
But the report does not imply more incursions by U.S. combat forces inside Pakistan or accelerating other forms of U.S. military involvement, the senior defense official emphasized. Pakistani officials repeatedly raised alarms after a surge of U.S. Hellfire missile strikes from drone predators in recent months, and they renewed those complaints after a new strike killed 19 people inside Pakistan days after Obama took office.
The Joint Chiefs' report advises a greater emphasis on U.S. military training of Pakistani forces for counter-terror work. The training efforts also would expand and develop the Afghan army and police force, while at the same time work to improve Afghan governance.
The report also stresses that Afghan strategy must be driven by what the Afghans want and that the U.S. cannot impose its own goals on the Afghanistan government.
During discussions about a new Afghanistan strategy, military leaders expressed worries that the U.S. ambitions in Afghanistan " to stabilize the country and begin to build a democracy there " were beyond its ability.
And as they tried to balance military demands in both Iraq and Afghanistan, some increasingly questioned why the U.S. continued to maintain a war-fighting force in Iraq, even though the mission there has shifted to a support role. Those fighting forces, they argued, were needed more urgently in Afghanistan.
Military leaders have been signaling for weeks that the focus of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan would change.
Gates told armed services committees in Congress last week that the U.S. should keep its sights on one thing: preventing Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists who would harm the U.S. or its allies.
Afghanistan Facing Crucial Year, UN Chief Tells Karzai in By Michael Heath
Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan faces a “crucial year” as it prepares to hold presidential elections and tries to turn the tide of the Taliban insurgency, United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Kabul.
The Afghan government must concentrate on “addressing security challenges and also establishing fuller democracy” in the nation, Ban told President Hamid Karzai, according to a statement on the UN’s Web site.
Western officials have criticized Karzai, who plans to seek re-election, for allowing corruption in his administration and failing to control the drugs trade that helps finance the insurgency. Poor governance has cost his administration popular support and undermined the fight against the Taliban, they say.
Ban said U.S. and NATO-led forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan are important to helping stabilize the country. He said he backed Karzai’s efforts to reach out to the Taliban and try to arrange peace talks aimed at ending the conflict.
There is a “need to balance political and military means to stability in Afghanistan, including through an Afghan-led political solution based on the constitution,” Ban said.
Karzai, whose government is trying to rebuild a country shattered by almost 30 years of conflict, last year called on Taliban leaders including Mullah Mohammad Omar to return home. The Taliban sheltered al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden before being ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
President Barack Obama plans to boost U.S. forces in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban under a strategy similar to the troop “surge” ordered by former President George W. Bush that helped quell the insurgency in Iraq.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said yesterday the success of the surge in Iraq resulted in “a flow of foreign terrorists into Afghanistan,” Agence France-Presse reported. He said there were battles last year where 60 percent of insurgents fighting against the Afghan army were “foreign,” AFP reported.
Ban visited Kabul before traveling to Pakistan, where thousands of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters sought shelter in the country’s tribal regions after U.S.-led forces toppled the Islamist regime in Afghanistan.
The secretary-general said at a news conference with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the international community must demonstrate a concerted commitment to combating terrorism, according to the official Associated Press of Pakistan.
Ban also called on Pakistan to fully cooperate with India in the investigation of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Gilani said earlier this month his government has reviewed information provided by India on the events in Mumbai last November and will respond shortly.
India blames Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the Nov. 26-29 siege that killed 164 people. It presented Gilani’s government with a dossier of evidence last month that it said proved the involvement of Pakistani nationals.
The government in New Delhi ordered a “pause” in the five-year peace process with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a Himalayan region divided between them and claimed in full by both.
Ban called for a resumption of the so-called composite dialogue between Pakistan and India to resolve all issues, including the Kashmir dispute.
“Cooperative and friendly relations between India and Pakistan are not only beneficial for the two countries, but also desirable for peace and stability in the subcontinent,” he said.
Ban also said the UN would establish a commission of inquiry into the death of Benazir Bhutto, APP reported. He made the announcement at a dinner hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widow.
Bhutto’s assassination on Dec. 27, 2007, triggered nationwide riots in Pakistan and prompted the then-government to postpone parliamentary elections by six weeks. Her death helped swing the public against former President Pervez Musharraf and his allies were defeated at the ballot, allowing Bhutto’s party, led by Zardari, to form a coalition government.
No autopsy was performed on Bhutto’s body and the crime scene was cleaned shortly after her death, prompting suspicions of a cover up and Zardari’s demand for the UN investigation.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at [email protected].
Last Updated: February 4, 2009 19:55 EST
WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. commanders are finalizing plans to send tens of thousands of reinforcements to Afghanistan's main opium-producing region and its porous border with Pakistan, moves that will form the core of President Barack Obama's emerging Afghan war strategy.
Local residents cross a river Tuesday after militants destroyed a bridge in northwest Pakistan, near Peshawar, cutting a major supply route for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Will President Obama's deployment of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to tighten border controls and reduce the drug trade be a successful strategy against terrorism?Mr. Obama is likely to formally approve additional deployments this week, and Pentagon officials hope the full complement of 20,000 to 30,000 new troops will be on the ground by the end of the summer, pushing the U.S. military presence to its highest level since the start of the war in 2001.
U.S. commanders said the moves are part of a push to beat back the resurgent Taliban and secure regions of Afghanistan that are beyond the reach of the weak central government in Kabul. Unlike Iraq, where violence has typically been concentrated in cities, the war in Afghanistan is being increasingly waged in isolated villages and towns.
Virtually none of the new troops heading to Afghanistan will go to Kabul or other major Afghan cities. By contrast, when the Bush administration dispatched 30,000 new troops to Iraq as part of the so-called surge, the bulk of the new forces went to Baghdad.
Pentagon officials said troops will be deployed along the Helmand River Valley, which produces the bulk of the world's opium; along the two main highways of southern Afghanistan that have been hit by growing numbers of roadside bombs; in two provinces outside Kabul believed to serve as staging grounds for the insurgents planning attacks in the capital; and along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
"We'll array our troops to secure the population," Brig. Gen. John M. Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in southern Afghanistan, said in an interview. "We're going to go out to where the people are."
The deployments, part of a planned doubling of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, are almost certain to spark heavier casualties and push the war squarely onto the public agenda. "I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be [more U.S. casualties]," Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS Sunday. "There will be an uptick."
The Military Toll in Afghanistan
The planned deployments also highlight the changing nature of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. After years of focusing on bolstering the country's central government, the U.S. is ramping up efforts to crack down on drug eradication and border infiltration from Pakistan.
Afghanistan's security situation has continued to deteriorate. Militants are entering from bases in Pakistan and carrying out attacks that are destabilizing both countries. The Taliban have strongholds throughout southern Afghanistan and are using drug money to buy weapons and hire new fighters.
Last year was the bloodiest to date for American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and 24 Western troops have been killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Afghanistan's violence has historically tapered off in the winter, but this year is shaping up differently. On Tuesday, militants destroyed a bridge in northwest Pakistan that is part of the main supply route for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, temporarily halting the shipments of food, gas and military equipment into the country. On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 21 Afghan police officers in one of Afghanistan's deadliest attacks in months.
NATO statistics show that 19 of the 20 areas with the highest numbers of attacks in Afghanistan are rural. The most dangerous city is the southern metropolis of Kandahar at No. 13; Kabul is No. 42.
The vast majority of the new troops will be deployed to southern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold that houses many of the shadow local governments run by the armed group. The Taliban are also profiting from the south's skyrocketing opium production, which allows the militants to continually replenish their supplies of weapons and fighters.
Some of the new forces are deploying to the border province of Kunar, a main transit route for the militants who cross into the country from Pakistan to carry out attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan targets.
"We'll thicken our lines in Kunar," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said in a recent interview. "We'll be able to get out into some villages we haven't been in before."
In a potential complication to the U.S.-led war effort, the Kyrgyz government renewed its threat to close an American base that is a main transit point for troops deploying to Afghanistan. But U.S. officials dismissed the threat as political posturing designed to improve Kyrgyzstan's relationship with Russia.
Opium production soared by 34% to 8,200 tonnes, accounting for 93% of world supply and most of the heroin sold in Britain and Europe, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported
The sprawling and violent province is now the world's single largest source of illegal drugs - greater than coca from Colombia, cannabis from Morocco or heroin from Burma, countries with populations up to 20 times greater.
The opium trade involves 3.3 million of Afghanistan's 23 million population, according to the UNODC, and accounts for more than half of its estimated $7.5bn (£3.7bn) gross domestic product.
LONDON, 27 November 2008. The Afghan Opium Survey 2008 released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that opium has become less important to the Afghan economy due to a decrease in cultivation, production and prices. However, opium finances the Taliban war economy and is a major source of revenue for criminal groups and terrorists.
Opium cultivation in 2008 declined 19% to 157,000 hectares. Production was down by 6% to 7,700 tons. The Survey shows that prices are also down by around 20%. As a result, the value of opium to farmers dropped by more than a quarter between 2007 and 2008, from $1 billion to $730 million. The export value of opium, morphine and heroin (at border prices in neighbouring countries) for Afghan traffickers is also down, from $4 billion in 2007 to $3.4 billion this year.
Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. pushed European NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning of a resurgence in terrorist violence in the country that gave rise to the Sept. 11 attacks.
President Barack Obama will send as many as 30,000 additional troops, putting European governments under pressure to step up their commitment as the war against the Taliban drags into its eighth year. Vice President Joe Biden yesterday promised a “new tone” in U.S. engagement with European allies, while making clear that the U.S. now has higher expectations.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have fielded 55,000 troops in Afghanistan, led by a 23,000-strong U.S. contingent. Another force of roughly 10,000 U.S. troops conducts counterterrorism missions independently of NATO command.
Britain, the largest European contributor, has sent 8,900. Germany has kept its 3,400 troops, the third-largest force, out of the hotly fought south and east of the country.
I suppose you are also upset and my father for fighting in WW2 and my Grandfather for fighting in WW1.
Newest US troops in dangerous region near Kabul
Mon Feb 16
Close to 3,000 American soldiers who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations in the field and already are seeing combat, the unit's spokesman said Monday.
The new troops are the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements this year. The process began to take shape under President George Bush but has been given impetus by President Barack Obama's call for an increased focus on Afghanistan.
U.S. commanders have been contemplating sending up to 30,000 more soldiers to bolster the 33,000 already here, but the new administration is expected to initially approve only a portion of that amount. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president would decide soon.
The new unit " the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division " moved into Logar and Wardak provinces last month, and the soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., are now stationed in combat outposts throughout the provinces.
Militants have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterhozer, the brigade spokesman, said.
Several roadside bombs also have exploded next to the unit's MRAPs " mine-resistance patrol vehicles " but caused no casualties, he said.
"In every case our vehicles returned with overwhelming fire," Ostehozer said. "We have not suffered anything more than a few bruises, while several insurgents have been killed."
Commanders are in the planning stages of larger scale operations expected to be launched in the coming weeks.
Militant activity has spiked in Logar and Wardak over the last year as the resurgent Taliban has spread north toward Kabul from its traditional southern power base. Residents say insurgents roam wide swaths of Wardak, a mountainous province whose capital is about 35 miles from Kabul.
The region has been covered in snow recently, but Col. David B. Haight, commander of the 3rd Brigade, said last week that he expects contact with insurgents to increase soon.
"The weather has made it so the enemy activity is somewhat decreased right now, and I expect it to increase in the next two to three months," Haight said at a news conference.
Haight said he believes the increase of militant activity in the two provinces is not ideologically based but stems from poor Afghans being enticed into fighting by their need for money. Quoting the governor of Logar, the colonel called it an "economic war."
Afghan officials "don't believe it's hardcore al-Qaida operatives that you're never going to convert anyway," Haight said. "They believe that it's the guys who say, 'Hey you want $100 to shoot an RPG at a Humvee when it goes by,' and the guy says, 'Yeah I'll do that, because I've got to feed my family.'"
Still, Haight said there are hardcore fighters in the region, some of them allied with Jalaludin Haqqani and his son Siraj, a fighting family with a long history in Afghanistan. The two militant leaders are believed to be in Pakistan.
Logar Gov. Atiqullah Ludin said at a news conference alongside Haight that U.S. troops will need to improve both security and the economic situation.
"There is a gap between the people and the government," Ludin said. "Assistance in Logar is very weak, and the life of the common man has not improved."
Ludin also urged that U.S. forces be careful and not act on bad intelligence to launch night raids on Afghans who turn out to be innocent.
It is a common complaint from Afghan leaders. President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with U.S. forces not to kill innocent Afghans during military operations and says he hopes to see night raids curtailed.
Pointing to the value of such operations, the U.S. military said Monday that a raid in northwest Badghis province killed a feared militant leader named Ghulam Dastagir and eight other fighters.
Other raids, though, have killed innocent Afghans who were only defending their village against a nighttime incursion by forces they didn't know, officials say.
"We need to step back and look at those carefully, because the danger they carry is exponential," Ludin said.
Haight cautioned last week that civilian casualties could increase with the presence of his 2,700 soldiers.
"We understand the probability of increased civilian casualties is there because of increased U.S. forces," said the colonel, who has also commanded Special Operations task forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Our plan is to do no operations without ANA (Afghan army) and ANP (Afghan police), to help us be more precise."
The U.S. military and Afghan Defense Ministry announced last week that Afghan officers and soldiers would take on a greater role in military operations, including in specialized night raids, with the aim of decreasing civilian deaths.
The presence of U.S. troops in Wardak and Logar is the first time such a large contingent of American power has been so close to Kabul, fueling concerns that militants could be massing for a push at the capital. Haight dismissed those fears.
"Our provinces butt up against the southern boundary of Kabul and therefore there is the perception that Kabul could be surrounded," Haight said. "But the enemy cannot threaten Kabul. He's not big enough, he's not strong enough, he doesn't have the technology. He can conduct attacks but he can't completely disrupt the governance in Kabul."
Tue Feb 17, 2009
Q+A - Obama sends more U.S. troops to Afghanistan
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama has authorized an extra 17,000 U.S. troops for Afghanistan in an effort to halt worsening insurgent violence there.
Here are some key questions and answers linked to the deployment.
WHICH TROOPS WILL GO?
About 8,000 troops from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will go to Afghanistan in late spring. About 4,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Washington state, will deploy in the summer. Another 5,000 support troops will also deploy, the Pentagon says.
The new forces will add to the 38,000 U.S. troops and approximately 30,000 military personnel from other nations, who form part of a NATO-led force, already in Afghanistan.
WHERE WILL THEY GO?
The Pentagon says the troops will be deployed to southern Afghanistan, where insurgent violence is worst. Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and other nations already have troops in southern Afghanistan, as does the United States.
WHAT WILL THEY DO?
Commanders say extra troops will allow them to hold territory once it has been cleared of insurgent fighters. Until now, they say, they have not had enough troops to maintain a presence in those areas and allow essential services to be provided and economic development to take place. Such projects will motivate ordinary Afghans to reject the Taliban, military commanders say.
WILL CASUALTIES GO UP?
Probably, at least in the short term. Senior U.S. officials have said that as the troops attempt to clear more areas of insurgents, there is a higher risk of casualties.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER RISKS?
Some independent analysts have questioned the wisdom of a major troop buildup. They have suggested that a larger foreign military presence runs a greater risk of being seen as an occupying force by ordinary Afghans.
Some analysts have also questioned whether such a major effort is necessary to achieve Washington's main goal of preventing al Qaeda from using Afghanistan to plot attacks against the United States.
(Editing by Patricia Wilson and Chris Wilson)
(Reporting by Andrew Gray)