American NATO commander requests troops in Afghanistan

WORLD DIGEST

February 09, 2007|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEVILLA, Spain -- The new American commander of NATO presented yesterday a new list of military requirements for Afghanistan that included a request for more combat troops for the country's restive southern provinces.

U.S. officials said Army Gen. John Craddock, who took over as the alliance's supreme commander in December, drew up the revised requirements last week amid growing concerns that current forces are not sufficient to counter an expected spring offensive by the Taliban. He presented the list at a meeting of alliance defense ministers here.

According to a senior Pentagon official traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the meeting, Craddock's new "statement of requirements" is already about 90 percent filled by existing forces.

But a European official familiar with Craddock's plan said the remaining forces and material still needed include about 2,000 additional combat troops and helicopters. The reinforcements would be used both to increase forces in the south and for a stepped-up effort to interdict fighters and weapons crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

"A lot of it goes back to stuff that still hasn't been filled," said the senior Pentagon official. "There is still a [troop] gap in the south, a battalion-sized theater reserve." A battalion consists of about 1,000 soldiers.

Craddock's requirements statement for Afghanistan was the first to be drawn up by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's military leadership in more than a year and is part of a renewed effort by the Bush administration to breathe additional life into the Afghan mission, now largely under alliance command.

Other than Britain, however, which recently committed to adding 800 troops to its current 5,200-man contingent in the south, several European officials appeared to be lukewarm to the idea of further increasing force levels. German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung has said he felt the alliance should be focusing on economic and reconstruction efforts.

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