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Why Afghan 'surge' isn't in the works

Rugged terrain and a lack of troops lead the Pentagon to consider special ops teams to zero in on insurgents.

October 26, 2008|Peter Spiegel | Spiegel is a Times staff writer.

Afghanistan has high illiteracy rates and little economic activity, making an Iraq-style "clear, hold and build" strategy more difficult to execute. The Soviet Union failed to control the country in the 1980s with more than 100,000 soldiers, and some U.S. military officials fear Afghans could see large-scale troop increases as a repeat of that occupation.

Although President Bush has decided to redirect an Army brigade and Marine battalion from Iraq to Afghanistan by January, any further troop reductions in Iraq could be slowed by commanders' concerns over the need to maintain security during Iraqi elections scheduled next year.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, the overall commander in Afghanistan, has requested an additional three brigades and a division headquarters unit. Although there is widespread support for the increase within the Pentagon, it remains unclear when those troops will be made available.

"I don't think anybody thought it was an unreasonable request, especially when you take into consideration the environment has changed," the military official said. "I don't think anybody is saying no more forces. I think people are saying ODA, or special forces, versus conventional forces," the official said, using the initials of the Army's Operational Detachment Alpha teams.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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