U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday that NATO troops should do more to combat Afghanistan's drug trade. His comments came as new reports emerged raising doubts about American strategy and the Afghan government's ability to cope.
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Taliban and al-Qaida attacks in Afghanistan have surged this year, and so have coalition deaths, in a war that entered its eighth year this week.
Since this past April, U.S. and coalition deaths in Afghanistan outnumbered coalition military deaths in Iraq; 610 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion.
In the United States, Afghanistan has become a campaign issue, as both presidential candidates have called for more troops for that theater.
The steady increase in violence also has raised new doubts among America's allies that the fight can be won.
This week, a French diplomatic cable leaked to the French press quoted Britain's ambassador to Kabul. It read, quote, "The current situation is bad. The security situation is getting worse. So is corruption, and the government has lost all trust." He added, Afghanistan might best be "governed by an acceptable dictator."
The quotes were later denied by the British government. But Britain's top military commander in Afghanistan bluntly told the Sunday Times this week, "We're not going to win this war."
Last week, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, called for more troops on the ground.
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, NATO Commander, Afghanistan:
We need more resources. It's not a question, though, of just military resources. It's a question of more civilian resources, more governance, more economic aid to Afghanistan, and more regional stability, as well.
Over the next several months, the U.S. plans to increase its troop numbers from the current 33,000. Relations between the United States and Afghanistan have been strained in recent weeks after a U.S. military air strike on August 22nd killed dozens of civilians.
AFGHAN CITIZEN (through translator):
They were children, old men, and women who were killed. There is no one among these dead who are Taliban.
The U.S. military originally reported between five to seven civilians died. But yesterday, a military investigation — spurred on by this amateur video — confirmed 30 civilian deaths.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the deaths undermine his government and the international mission.
HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan: We cannot tolerate civilian casualties, not even one. Therefore, the right mechanism has to be established, foolproof, to avoid civilian casualties.
The U.S. apologized for the incident.
Defense Secretary Gates, who is attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest this week, urged allies to send extra troops.
ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: We need a better-coordinated effort between the civilian economic development and reconstruction efforts and the security efforts.
We need to have the Afghans in the lead. There is, I think, broad support for expanding the Afghan army and doing that as quickly as possible.
All together, there are nearly 51,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan now. NATO commanders are seeking up to 12,000 more.
Today, the New York Times and other newspapers reported that the Bush administration and the intelligence community have mounted full-scale reviews of the war in Afghanistan.