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U.S. wants Afghan security forces to increase

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is expected to recommend a rapid increase in the size of the Afghan army and police; something that might require more U.S. troops for training.

July 11, 2009|Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has told top Pentagon officials that Afghan security forces must expand faster and beyond current target levels to more quickly secure the country, Defense officials said.

A dramatically stepped-up training program would probably require additional U.S. forces, but it is not clear whether American commanders in Afghanistan will request more, and if so, how many.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is to make a formal report with his recommendations in August. Defense officials emphasized that though McChrystal believes more Afghan security forces are needed sooner, he has not yet made formal recommendations.

U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan repeatedly have said they need more Afghan army soldiers and police officers to help secure cities and villages as they expand their operations against Taliban fighters.

The Afghan army, generally considered far more skilled than the police forces, has about 85,000 members and is scheduled to grow to 134,000.

The Pentagon already has accelerated the training schedule. Military officials are debating how much faster they can go, as well as how many more American trainers the job would require. A brigade of U.S. troops assigned to the training mission is due to arrive in August.

With about $800 million a year in overall revenue, the Afghan government cannot support the security forces it already has. Further expansion would require support for years from the United States or other nations.

"We don't want to put any numbers to it yet, but everyone knows expanding the Afghan national security forces is key to the counter-insurgency campaign," said a military official. Officials discussed the issue on condition of anonymity because McChrystal's recommendations have not been made public.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, declined to discuss a conversation this week between McChrystal and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and said it was "premature" to say what the recommendations would be.

"Everybody recognizes, and the secretary has said time and time again, the key to the U.S. ultimately leaving Afghanistan is to develop an Afghan military and police force that is capable of providing for the security of its own people," Morrell said.

Expanding the security forces is a difficult and expensive undertaking, he noted.

"We are already on an ambitious growth plan, and trainers are already at a premium and the world will be subsidizing this effort for some time to come," he said. "These are big decisions to be made."

The recommendation by McChrystal was first reported Friday by the Washington Post. The Post reported that officials believe that the Afghan army might need to double its ultimate target size, to nearly 270,000.

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julian.barnes@latimes.com

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