US in Afghanistan for 'A Few Years'

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Al-Jazeera-English

US in Afghanistan for 'A Few Years'

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Gates expressed concern of an Afghan backlash if US troops deployed to the country increase. [EPA]

The
US defence secretary has said there is a possibility of an increased
military presence in Afghanistan, but warned that such a move would
stretch military resources and could lead to a possible Afghan backlash.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Robert Gates painted a bleak
portrait of the prospects for the US mission in Afghanistan, noting
that Taliban fighters had a firm hold on parts of the country and
defeating them would take "a few years".

His
comments comes amid intense speculation that General Stanley
McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is preparing to
make a case for more troops in the fight against the Taliban.

Afghanistan has seen an escalation in Taliban attacks in recent days
as the country prepares for next week's presidential elections, with at
least three separate attacks on Thursday alone.

Speaking
at the Pentagon Gates said that he and Admiral Mike Mullen, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told McChrystal, that
"[they] want him to ask for what he thinks he needs", adding "I think
you have to allow your commanders that freedom."

But with about 132,000 troops currently in Iraq, Gates said there
were constraints as to how many extra troops could be sent to
Afghanistan at least until after Iraq's elections in January.

Military 'footprint'

Gates also repeated his concerns about too big of a US military
"footprint," in Afghanistan, saying at the moment, local residents see
the coalition of forces as "their partner".

"I just worry that we don't know what the size of the military presence might be that would begin to change that," he said.   Barack
Obama, the US president, has made Afghanistan one of his top foreign
policy priorities and has already ordered an additional 21,000 troops
to Afghanistan.

That will push the number of US forces in the country to 68,000 before the end of the year.

His administration, however, is struggling on how to refocus on Afghanistan, while withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

In a report released this week, the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee warned Obama that unanswered questions about continuing US
involvement in Afghanistan could frustrate the public.

"The administration has raised the stakes by transforming the Afghan
war from a limited intervention into a more ambitious and potentially
risky counterinsurgency,'' the report said.

"These core questions about commitment and sacrifice can be answered only through a rigorous and informed national debate."

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