Afghans turn ‘new page’ as US sends more troops

President Obama,in his first major military decision,has ordered 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan to tackle worsening insurgent violence.

Written by Reuters | Kabul | Published: February 18, 2009 1:36:10 pm

Afghanistan is turning a new page in its relations with the United States,the president’s spokesman said on Wednesday,as US President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to battle insurgents.

Obama,in his first major military decision as commander-in-chief,said the troop increase was “necessary to stabilise a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan”,but warned military means alone would not solve the problem.

Obama spoke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai overnight for the first time since the US president took office nearly a month ago.

Ties between Kabul and Washington have been strained since Obama’s inauguration,with the new administration questioning Karzai’s ability to govern effectively and the Afghan president hitting back at the killing of civilians by foreign troops.

But after a telephone conversation overnight,Karzai’s spokesman said: “We have opened a new page.”

“Mr. Obama spoke with the president about various issues including steps for improving security in the region,equipment and training of the national army,further strengthening of bilateral relations,and the increase of forces was also discussed,” said presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

The extra 17,000 troops will take US numbers to around 55,000. US troops in Afghanistan have already steadily risen from around 30,000 at the beginning of this year to 38,000 now under orders signed by the Bush administration.

Some 30,000 troops from 40 other mostly NATO countries are also in Afghanistan and Washington is expected to demand its allies also boost their contributions.

The new US forces will include an expeditionary brigade of some 8,000 Marines and an Army brigade of 4,000 soldiers.

HIGH RISKS

Most of the new deployment will be sent to southern Afghanistan in an attempt to break the stalemate between mostly British,Canadian and Dutch troops there and Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan Defence Ministry welcomed the extra troops,a spokesman said.

“It has been decided they will be deployed on the basis of understanding and consultation with government authorities in insecure areas in the south and east where there is the need for additional forces,” said spokesman Zaher Murad.

The US troops would be deployed,he said,”in areas where there are high risks”.

More than seven years after US-led troops toppled the Taliban for harbouring al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks,US officials admit the United States and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan.

Obama said Afghanistan had “not received the strategic attention,direction and resources it urgently requires”. The US president pledged to also use the weapons of diplomacy and development to help end the Taliban insurgency.

Karzai is to go to Pakistan in the coming days,his spokesman said,in an attempt to consolidate improving relations between the two neighbours and US allies that are often at odds over Afghan accusations of secret Pakistani backing for the Taliban.

Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to bring the two sides together and convince Pakistan its biggest existential threat now comes from Taliban militants operating along the Afghan border,rather than from long-standing rival India.

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