U.S. Marines ordered to remain in Afghanistan

The US and NATO struggle to maintain troops even as the Taliban reclaim southern and eastern Afghan provinces.

With Afghanistan now more dangerous for foreign troops than Iraq, the United States military decided this week to bolster the presence of US Marines in the country.

The move, the latest in a series, comes just three days after five North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) soldiers were killed in a series of roadside bombings in Afghanistan that underscored the Taliban's resurgence in the country's southern and eastern provinces. The increased deployments indicate the US's mounting frustration with NATO for not providing more troops to tackle the Afghan insurgency.

The US Defense Department announced yesterday that it would extend by one month the tour of 1,250 Marines, the second such decision in as many months, according to the Associated Press.

The decision to extend the tour of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan comes just a month after defense officials told the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that it would stay an extra month in Afghanistan.
According to [a senior military] official, the decision to hold the battalion there longer is part of an effort to capitalize on the gains the Marines have made in the training mission. The extension means that the battalion would return home in late November.

The Associated Press report adds that US military planners say they need more troops on the ground.

[C]ommanders have said they need three more combat brigades – or as many as 10,000 troops – to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. And U.S. officials have indicated they would like to send extra brigades there next year.
Military leaders, however, have made it clear they need to free units from Iraq deployments in order to send more troops to Afghanistan. As security in Iraq continues to improve, officials have suggested that units initially headed for Iraq late this year or early next year could be sent to Afghanistan instead.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that those three brigades are part of a proposed Afghan surge.

The success of the surge of American troops in Iraq is putting pressure anew on the Pentagon to build a surge plan to counter a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. But experts warn that it will take more than just additional troops to turn things around there.

There are currently some 70,000 NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan, with 32,000 from the United States and 38,000 drawn from various NATO allies, reports The New York Times, adding that, "[the] violence has spiked even as the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan nears its highest level since 2001."

About 2,700 people have been killed this year in fighting with the Taliban, including 800 Afghan security forces, according to calculations by the Associated Press.

The number of Western soldiers killed this year rose by five last Friday, when a series of bombings killed four soldiers in Kunar Province and, separately, one soldier in Khost – both eastern provinces along the border with Pakistan, reports Agence France-Presse.

The new deaths take to 149 the number of mostly Western soldiers to die in Afghanistan this year, a majority losing their lives in attacks. For the past three months, more foreign troops have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

Due to the violence, the US and Canada have been pushing for NATO to send more troops, but with little success. The move to extend the Marines' deployment underscores growing frustration on the part of the US, writes Tony Perry for the "Babylon and Beyond" blog on the Los Angeles Times website.

It's no secret that U.S. civilian and military leaders are frustrated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for not providing more troops for the fight against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Some of our allies do not want to fight, or they impose caveats on where, when and how their forces may be used," [Secretary of Defense Robert Gates] wrote recently in a widely distributed memo.
NATO countries, Gates noted, have two million troops – not counting the U.S.
"Yet we struggle to sustain a deployment of less than 30,000 non-U.S. forces in Afghanistan," Gates wrote in the same memo, "and we are forced to scrounge for a handful of helicopters."

One country that has answered the call is the Czech Republic, according to the Associated Press.

The Czech parliament approved the deployment of up to 415 Czech servicemen in NATO's peacekeeping force in Afghanistan this year.
Ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek says the number of Czech troops serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force could reach some 600 in 2009.

As NATO struggles with troop deployments, violence in Afghanistan continues to spiral dramatically, Agence France-Presse reports.

The violence has grown year on year, ruining the post-Taliban government's hopes of rebuilding a country destroyed by decades of war.
An umbrella body of aid groups said Friday that insurgent attacks, bombings and other violent incidents were up by about 50 percent this year compared with the same period last year.
Unrest has spread to once stable areas and welfare agencies were forced to scale back aid delivery even as drought and food price hikes put millions of people in difficulty, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said.
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