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Top US Commander Signals Troop Increase in Afghanistan

Admiral Mike Mullen urges patience as poll indicates declining public support in the US for the Afghanistan war

Ewen MacAskill

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in New Delhi April 8, 2009. The United States will probably need to deploy more troops to Afghanistan despite almost doubling the size of its force there this year Mullen said. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

The top US commander today signalled for the first time that Washington will almost certainly deploy more troops to Afghanistan later this year.

Mike Mullen, chair of the joint chiefs of staff, told the Senate armed
services committee: "A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably
means more forces."

He did not specify how many more troops he thought would be needed. Estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 45,000.

His comments come against the background of a fierce debate within the Obama administration
about whether to send any more troops. Polls indicate sharply declining
support in the US for the war in Afghanistan. A CNN poll yesterday
showed 58% opposed to the war and 39% in favour.

Mullen today
urged patience. "We can get there. We can accomplish the mission we've
been assigned," he said. "But we will need resources matched to the
strategy, civilian expertise matched to military capabilities, and the
continued support of the American people."

He said that lessons
learned in Iraq could be applied to Afghanistan, in particular the need
to provide security for civilians, but this required more troops and

Rounding on critics who argue the war in Afghanistan
could be fought without a US presence on the ground but by the use of
aircraft and drones to attack al-Qaida and Taliban
militants, Mullen said the objective was to remove the threat posed to
the US by al-Qaida and the Taliban. "We cannot do that from offshore.
You cannot do that by just killing the bad guys. You have to be there."

Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate committee, is among those
opposed to sending more combat troops. He told the hearing that the
imperative was the building up of the Afghan army and police and
resources should be directed towards that. Levin said: "I believe these
steps should be urgently implemented before we consider a further
increase in US ground combat troops, beyond what is already planned to
be deployed by the end of the year."

Obama has almost doubled the
number of US troops in Afghanistan since becoming president in January.
The number of US troops stood at 32,000 when he took over and has since
risen to 62,000. That deployment will be completed by the end of the
year, bringing the number of US troops up to 68,000.

Some in the
Obama administration have suggested waiting until the deployment is
completed before deciding on more troops. But the US commander in
Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is already privately advocating
further deployments.

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, was
initially opposed to further deployments and worried that if the US
increased its presence, there would be a greater risk of the US being
more widely regarded as an occupier.

Obama's troop increase this year has been matched by Nato allies, but there is resistance on the part of Europeans to sending more troops.

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