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Washington - President Obama's decision to deploy 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan may be a defining move that will either reverse the deteriorating situation there or mire the new administration in a war with no foreseeable end.
The president's announcement yesterday answered a months-old request from Gen. David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, who is trying to reverse a two-year slide in the battle with Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents. Last year produced the most US combat fatalities, 155, of any single year of the Afghan war.
About 55,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan now, about half of whom are Americans. The decision expands the total US force by more than 50 percent.
But even more US troops could be on their way. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has indicated the Pentagon ultimately may send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in the coming year or so.
"This is the beginning of an almost unending need," says one Pentagon official. Indeed, it is the first prong of a broader effort that will include nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, the source of much of the insurgency.
At the same time, the Obama administration still has not settled on a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and does not yet know its endgame. That strategy is being debated by senior US military and civilian officials. A decision isn't expected for another two months.
The war for Afghanistan is increasingly being staged from across the Pakistani border. Although Pakistan's government claims to support the US, it is reluctant to take on the Taliban in tribal areas.
DEFENCE Secretary John Hutton slammed Nato last night for leaving British and US troops to die alone in Afghanistan — as two more Brits were killed.
As President Obama continues in earnest with his promised military “surge” in Afghanistan, which will double the number of American forces on the ground, it was expected that NATO would enhance its commitment to the seven year long military commitment as well. That seems increasingly unlikely.
Indeed, most European leaders have promised at best only meager numbers of additional troops, and many have ruled out sending troops at all.