Counterterror debate turns to troop levels in Afghanistan, Iraq

Democrats say an overemphasis on the war in Iraq has come at the expense of Afghanistan and has allowed Al Qaeda to regroup in that region.

Nikola Solic/AP
President George W. Bush greeted Croatian soldiers that served in the NATO mission in Afghanistan at Zagreb airport, Croatia before his departure. As hearings on Iraq open in Washington, DC on Tuesday, there are questions about the adequacy of ISAF troop levels in Afghanistan, in the wake of NATO members' commitment to increase deployment in the region.

As hearings on Iraq open in Washington Tuesday, US lawmakers are questioning the adequacy of troop levels in Afghanistan. Their comments come in the wake of NATO members' commitment to increase deployment in the region and a renewed skepticism at home about the effectiveness of the recent troop buildup in Iraq.

"Democrats have called on President George W. Bush to refocus US counterterror efforts to Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying that overemphasis on Iraq has allowed Islamic extremists to regroup along the Afghan-Pakistan border," Agence France-Presse reports.

'The negligent policies of the last half-decade have permitted al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regenerate, and to pose a greater threat to the national security of the United States than at any point since September 11, 2001,' Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Bush Sunday.

The Baltimore Sun's politics blog, The Swamp, quotes Sen. Joseph Biden (D) Delaware as warning that Afghanistan and Pakistan should not be overlooked:

While we look forward this week to hearing from Ambassador Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan must also be an urgent priority. Afghanistan is slipping toward failure and the instability in Pakistan continues. As a result, the border area between the two remains a freeway of fundamentalism, where those who actually attacked us on 9/11 have regrouped. Afghanistan's fate is directly tied to Pakistan's future and America's security. This Administration cannot continue to treat the region as an afterthought.

The letter comes just days after "President Bush promised NATO allies at a summit that ended in Bucharest, Romania, on Friday that the United States will increase forces in Afghanistan next year no matter what happens in Iraq," The Washington Post reports. The announcement could signal an Iraq-style buildup.

The pledge comes as violence and insurgent activity is spiking in parts of Afghanistan. The administration's promise of more troops could indicate the beginnings of a push, similar to the buildup of forces in Iraq over the past year, to step up counterinsurgency operations next year.

Associated Press more troops are needed

"General McNeill has said that he needs three more brigades, two for combat and one for training. That translates to roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional troops."

The commitment comes as President Bush last week lobbied a European summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to send more troops to Afghanistan, Voice of America reports. And Bush's call seems to been answered:

NATO leaders, at their summit in Bucharest, have pledged to dispatch more than 1,800 additional troops for the allied force in Afghanistan.

France committed an additional 700 soldiers. Georgia, which hopes to become a NATO member, offered 500 and Poland will send 400 more soldiers and eight badly-needed helicopters. Italy, Romania and Greece agreed to add training teams for the Afghan army.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and non-NATO-members Azerbaijan and New Zealand offered to send more modest numbers.
Poland and Georgia each will split their units between southern and eastern Afghanistan – areas where Taliban insurgents are most active.
And Uzbekistan said it is ready to sign a deal to allow NATO to transport non-military supplies to troops in Afghanistan through the Central Asian nation.

Britain has also pledged more troops, London's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Monday:

Britain is poised to send another 450 troops to Afghanistan and take control of its most war-torn region for at least the next two years following pressure from the United States, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

It's not only southern Afghanistan that's in trouble. The elevated troop deployments come as Afghanistan's eastern provinces, once considered safe, are experiencing an uptick in violence, The Washington Post reports.

…more than six years into the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, efforts to stabilize the country increasingly focus on the rugged frontier area straddling the border with Pakistan. Over the past 18 months, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have exploited peace deals by Pakistan's government to create an unprecedented haven in the region, U.S. officials said. From there, insurgents have escalated attacks in Pakistan and in eastern Afghanistan, leading the United States last year to double its troop presence along more than 600 miles of frontier.

Observers in Pakistan, meanwhile, watched the NATO summit and the possible troop deployment with dismay. An opinion piece in Pakistan's The News, an English-language daily, warns:

In plain words, all this suggests that the US and ISAF forces are getting increasingly bogged down in the quagmire that is Afghanistan today, and are making little headway in their efforts to defeat what they call the "insurgency".
What they are actually facing, however, is not an "insurgency" but a resistance movement made up of Afghans who want to get rid of the foreign forces that have occupied their country.
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