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U.S. Commanders Call for More Troops to Defeat Taliban in Afghanistan

BY Anna Shoup  August 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT

NATO soldier in Afghanistan

Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited all four regional commanders in Afghanistan. During his discussions, they told him that even with the boost in American and NATO forces, they still need more.

President Obama has redirected American resources from Iraq to Afghanistan as the war there nears its eight-year anniversary.

Speaking to reporters in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan over the weekend, Holbrooke said a new strategy would reach out to Taliban fighters to encourage them to put down their arms.

“Anyone who renounces al-Qaida and comes back to work peacefully in the Afghan system will be welcome,” Holbrooke said, according to the New York Times.

The commanders expressed concern about the increasing insurgencies in the eastern part of the country. Much of the focus has centered on the fight in the south, but now many U.S. officials say attention should turn toward the mountainous eastern region where Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network of insurgents is expanding its reach.

The commander of forces in eastern Afghanistan U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said that Haqqani “is the central threat” in the east, according to the Los Angeles Times.

On Sunday, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse even with the recent troop increases.

“I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I’ve said that over the past couple of years — that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics,” Mullen said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Mullen did not say whether additional troops would be required.

As the situation on the ground deteriorates, public support among Americans is declining with a majority saying the war is not worth fighting, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

President Obama plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the end of the year, compared to 32,000 at the end of 2008. U.S. deaths there have risen to record numbers with 44 reported in July.

The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is assessing the situation in Afghanistan and plans to submit a report in a couple of weeks that will help guide whether the U.S. sends more troops, Mullen said on Sunday.

President Obama’s Republican opponent in last year’s presidential election also weighed in on the situation over the weekend.

“I think you need to see a reversal of these very alarming and disturbing trends on attacks, casualties and areas of the country that the Taliban has increased control of,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The concerns come amidst uncertainty over the results of Thursday’s presidential elections, with the two top contenders — President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah — both claiming victory.

The independent Electoral Complaints Commission said it has received 225 complaints of fraud, voter intimidation and violence, including 35 allegations that are “material to the election results,” such as ballot box tampering, said Grant Kippen, the head of the U.N.-backed body, according to the Associated Press.

And the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent monitoring group that dispatched nearly 7,000 observers to polling sites, has found many instances of ballot-stuffing and of biased election workers across the country, said its director Jandad Spingar, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The allegations of fraud, along with low voter turnout in some areas due to fear of Taliban attacks, could detract from the legitimacy of the vote and delay final election results, said Alex Thier, senior rule of law adviser for the U.S. Institute of Peace and director of the Future of Afghanistan Project.

“The danger is that if [Afghan citizens] didn’t come out to vote, they won’t see the government as their own,” he said. “This could potentially be a very fraught few weeks as we not only sort through who legitimately won the election and who got how many votes in a difficult environment, but also the politics surrounding that and the positioning of the players to indicate before the results come out that they won.”

Listen to a portion of his interview here:

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff is expected to be scheduled for October.