U.S. Afghanistan commander's troops request ready

KABUL Sat Sep 19, 2009 7:00pm BST

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander for the international troops in Afghanistan, attends a meeting of the chiefs of defence staff of the 28 Nato member countries in Sintra September 18, 2009. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander for the international troops in Afghanistan, attends a meeting of the chiefs of defence staff of the 28 Nato member countries in Sintra September 18, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce

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KABUL (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has drawn up a long-awaited and detailed request for additional troops but has not yet sent it to Washington, a spokesman said on Saturday.

He said General Stanley McChrystal completed the document this week, setting out exactly how many U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan security force members and civilians he thinks he needs.

"We're working with Washington as well as the other NATO participants about how it's best to submit this," said the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, declining to give details of the contents.

He said it might be "a few weeks" before McChrystal sent his request to Washington or NATO's Brussels headquarters.

The announcement that McChrystal has already determined how many troops he wants comes just three days after President Barack Obama said he would not rush to make a decision.

"There is no immediate decision pending on resources," Obama said. "You have to get the strategy right and then make the determination about resources."

McChrystal commands more than 100,000 troops, rising to about 110,000 by the end of this year, two-thirds of them American.

The Pentagon has already doubled the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan this year under an escalation strategy begun under President George W. Bush and ramped up under Obama.

McChrystal sent a review of the situation in the country to Washington and NATO last month, but was ordered to keep his advice on future force requirements out of that document and submit any requests for troops separately.

TOUGH DECISION

Obama's decision on whether to continue escalating the eight-year-old war could determine the fate of his key foreign policy issue.

Support for the mission has begun to flag in the United States, U.S. troops are dying in combat at the highest rate of the war and Obama faces scepticism from within his own Democratic Party about the need for more troops.

European NATO allies are showing even greater signs of weariness. Britain, Germany and France have jointly called for an international conference this year to begin to set timetables for Afghanistan to assume a greater role in its own security.

Meanwhile, Republicans have said Obama should quickly send McChrystal the troops he wants. They accuse the president of putting troops in danger by delaying the decision.

McChrystal took command of the U.S. and NATO forces in June, promising a new strategy that emphasises protecting civilians, based on tactics from Iraq that need many troops with a presence in communities.

He may seek additional combat brigades to secure populous areas such as Kandahar in the south, and more troops to work as trainers, a role that involves combat forces embedding in small teams among Afghan security forces.

McChrystal will want to see an expansion of Afghanistan's own army and police, which are funded by Western donors.

Sholtis declined to say how the general would respond if Obama refused his request for more troops.

"General McChrystal has said in the past that if he did not feel that this mission was doable, he would tell the president that. He does feel that it's doable," he said.

"At this point, he is comfortable with where we're at."

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