- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan | Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen on Saturday said the Pentagon has “revised” its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, noting that any solution to the current crisis must include Pakistan and India.

He also said the United States would send up to 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan — the largest force increase yet mentioned by a U.S. military official.

At a late-night meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told reporters that last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai showed the havoc that as few as 10 well-trained insurgents could wreak and the ability of the insurgency to destabilize nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

“It’s also been my belief historically, if you look at the Afghan-Pakistan relationship and Pakistan being central to all of this, it’s very difficult to talk about a strategy for Pakistan without talking about a strategy that includes India,” Adm. Mullen said. “India is supportive of Afghanistan in many ways. I think we need to have a more comprehensive approach across the region.”

The Mumbai attacks strained already unstable relations between India and Pakistan. India has warned that normal ties between New Delhi and Islamabad will halt until Pakistan takes strong action against the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Indian and U.S. intelligence officials blame for the attacks that killed 171 people.

Officials in India have said they ruled out military action against Pakistan, but instability in the region remains a serious concern to U.S. defense and senior intelligence officials. U.S. officials fear that worsening relations between the countries could result in Pakistan diverting military resources that now are used to fight a resurgent Taliban, which has enjoyed refuge in the lawless border areas of Pakistan.

Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had asked for roughly 20,000 U.S. troops to counter an increase this year in insurgent violence. Adm. Mullen on Saturday said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent — nearly doubling the force of 31,000 U.S. troops currently in the country.

Adm. Mullen said the additional U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan will aid in training and security operations.

U.S. officials had said the 20,000 troops would be deployed over the next 12 to 18 months, but Adm. Mullen said the reinforcements would reach Afghanistan “certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest.”

U.S. defense officials are concerned that overall violence and large-scale terrorist attacks will increase throughout the country next year as insurgents, who have accumulated weapons and foreign recruits using money gained from the sale of opium, try to destabilize the upcoming presidential elections.

Officials with the International Security Assistance Force told The Washington Times, on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, that they are concerned that security is insufficient.

Adm. Mullen said the elections must be conducted fairly and must be safe for the people of Afghanistan. He said security is a main concern and one of the main reasons the Defense Department has remained committed to sending more U.S. troops, as troops draw down from Iraq.

Taliban extremists have shown greater sophistication and effectiveness this year, and insurgents attacks are expected to increase in the spring, when the harsh Afghan winter ends.

Two Afghan sources with knowledge of the workings of the Taliban told The Times that over the past several months Taliban insurgents have been making their way into the northern Kunduz province and are pushing their way into other areas of the north to prepare for spring.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity owing to the nature of their work and because of threats against their lives and families, said that some Taliban leaders are developing closer ties with al Qaeda leaders, who are aiding the insurgency with weapons and recruits.

“They are making their way to the north and pushing their way into Kabul as well,” said one of the sources by phone from Kunduz. “It’s not safe anywhere anymore, and the situation is only going to get worse next year. If the U.S. and ISAF don’t act, the Taliban will destabilize the country to such an extent that it may not be recoverable.”

A former mujahideen leader said members of the Northern Alliance are rearming themselves to fight the Taliban if the insurgents make their way too far into the north.

“We will protect ourselves if the U.S. and international forces can’t,” the former mujahideen leader said. “The Taliban is a formidable force because they know that if they wait long enough and deplete the international forces, eventually they may give up and leave like the Soviets did.”

The man also said that the international forces are not listening or including enough of the Afghan people in the process.

Adm. Mullen said that he understands that any success in Afghanistan must include the Afghan people in the solution and that he is just as concerned as they are with the growing insurgency, the lack of a strong central government and the complex tribal affiliations.

“We will stick with the Afghan people for however long it takes,” he said. “Enabling the communities, the tribes and their leaders as a part of the future strategy is going to be important. How we connect that and how strong a central government is going to be in the future is still to be determined.”

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