- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan told Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday that thousands of new U.S. troops expected in the country’s south will need more helicopters and other support to beat back surging Taliban violence, an official said.

Mr. Biden met with Gen. David McKiernan and was scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai later in the day.

“Gen. McKiernan explained the current situation and talked about the incoming troops and the need for additional enablers … things like helicopters, engineers, military police, transportation assets,” said Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. military spokesman.

“As we expand in the south we will need those additional enablers to cover for the troops,” Col. Julian said.

The United States is rushing up to 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, some of whom will go to its volatile southern provinces, to combat a Taliban insurgency that has sent violence to record levels.

Last year, 151 U.S. troops died in the country, more than in any other year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.

Southern Afghanistan has become the center of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, with daily attacks, roadside bombings and suicide attacks targeting foreign and Afghan troops, which has left some 6,400 people — mostly militants — dead in 2008.

President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the war in Iraq and refocusing U.S. military efforts on the conflict in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan an “urgent crisis,” saying it is time to heed the call from U.S. commanders for significantly more American troops. Mr. Biden’s visit is a clear signal that Mr. Obama’s administration plans to make the region an immediate priority.

Mr. Biden discussed priorities in Afghanistan for 2009 with the United Nations’ top representative for the country, Kai Eide, U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwardssaid.

“Their meeting touched on security, political and developmental issues, including donor coordination, police reform and regional cooperation,” Mr. Edwards said.

The vice president-elect also thanked some of the U.S. troops stationed at NATO’s Kabul headquarters.

“Thank you, I mean it sincerely,” Mr. Biden told the troops, according to a NATO statement. “It’s a big, big deal, what you’re doing here. You’re making a big sacrifice in a [challenging] environment. Thank you for your service.” Mr. Biden will take office as vice president Jan. 20.

There are some 32,000 American troops in Afghanistan serving alongside 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops, the highest number since the ouster of the Taliban from power.

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