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US Warns of Battle Worse Than Iraq in Afghanistan


US soldiers fire artillery shells at an undisclosed location in the Ghazni province. (AFP)

MUNICH, Germany - The United States warned its allies Sunday that fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan could prove tougher than in Iraq and appealed, along with Britain, for more troops and equipment.

US ambassador Richard Holbrooke insisted that a new approach was required to turn the strife-torn country around, involving all of Afghanistan's neighbours and in particular Pakistan.

"It is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it's going to be much tougher than Iraq," he said at an international security conference in Germany. "It is going to be a long, difficult struggle."

Holbrooke, who is to embark on a regional tour soon, said that the administration of President Barack Obama was reviewing the best way to tackle the Taliban-led insurgency.

"What is required in my view is new ideas, better coordination within the US government, better coordination with our NATO allies and other concerned countries, and the time to get it right," he said.

Countries bordering Afghanistan must also be drawn in as part of a solution, he said, including Iran but particularly Pakistan, where the Taliban and its backers in Al-Qaeda and criminal gangs have rear bases.

"All the neighbours ... play a direct role and we're going to look for more of a regional approach," he said, noting that "Pakistan's situation is dire."

"It needs international assistance, international sympathy and international support," said Holbrooke, the new envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he will start his tour that will also take in India.

The envoy also railed against would-be donors who have failed to live up to their pledges.

"People got up and pledged things, and nothing happened, and that is the story of Afghanistan," he said. "I have never seen anything remotely resembling the mess we have inherited."

Obama has identified Afghanistan as the main front in the "war on terror" and has pledged to send another 30,000 troops.

There are currently some 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan including 50,000 under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Yet the top US commander for southwest Asia, General David Petraeus, said more troops, but also aircraft, medical evacuation facilities, engineers, logistics and trainers were needed.


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"I would be remiss if I did not ask individual countries to examine very closely the forces and other contributions they can provide as ISAF intensifies its efforts in prepartion for the elections in August," he said.

British Defence Secretary John Hutton insisted that combat forces were most desperately needed to capture and hold ground in the hands of the insurgents.

"Combat forces, that is a most precious contribution right now to that campaign," he said. "We kid ourselves if we imagine that other contributions are as important."

He warned that NATO's biggest and most ambitious mission was under threat.

"We face a moment of choice," he said. "Were are fighting, I think, an existential campaign in Afghanistan," he said.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a process of reconciliation with the Taliban, and urged foreign forces to do more to halt civilian casualties.

"This is the right time for me to call for a process of reconciliation," he said.

"We will invite all those Taliban who are not part of Al-Qaeda, who are not part of terrorist networks, who want to return to their country, who want to live by the constitution of Afghanistan and who want to have peace in their country and live a normal life, to participate, to come back to their country."

Karzai is set to stand again in presidential elections on August 20, but his popularity has waned amid allegations of government corruption and growing opium production, as well as the insurgency.

NATO nations have had mixed reactions to Karzai's past proposals to talk to the insurgents.

"International violent jihadism, I do not believe is and will prove to be susceptible to any rational political accommodation," Hutton said.

Karzai raised eyebrows in November when he said he would protect the fugitive leader of the insurgent Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in return for peace whether his international partners liked it or not.


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