The move will free up the U.S. military, which has 19,000 troops in the country, to concentrate more firepower along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where it has been engaging units of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, and al-Qaeda fighters.
British, Canadian, Romanian, and other governments will supply up to 6,000 additional troops for the NATO force in southern Afghanistan. The Australian government, which is not a NATO member, has also agreed to send troops.
The Dutch government is coming under pressure from NATO and U.S. officials to go ahead with its decision, which is facing some opposition in the Netherlands, to send 1,400 troops to southern Afghanistan. This is an extremely important mission, said NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, also a former Dutch foreign minister, January 9, reported the Associated Press. We should not grant the terrorists, the Taliban, a victory. Paul Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and one-time U.S. governor of Iraq, added, If the Dutch decide not to send troops to Afghanistan, that will be damaging to Dutch interests in the United States.
Col. S.J. Bowes said troops from his country, Canada, will take over in Kandahar, and British forces will command the overall NATO mission in the south. Its clear that this is not a peacekeeping mission, he told the Associated Press.
Bombings by pro-Taliban forces and their allies and U.S.-led attacks have resulted in more civilian deaths last yearabout 1,500 totalthan any year since the U.S. invasion in 2001. And nearly half of the 200 U.S. soldiers killed in the country since the invasion died in fighting last year.
Meanwhile, U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld has announced that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be cut to 16,500 by this spring as European governments commit more forces. U.S. president George Bush, speaking at the Pentagon January 4, referred to Afghanistan as one of two major fronts in the war on terror, the other being Iraq. In a speech the next day, Bush also noted that U.S. commanders in Iraq have recently determined that we can reduce combat forces in Iraq from 17 to 15 brigades.
Washington has spent well over $47 billion since 2001 in its efforts to establish a relatively stable, pliant regime in Afghanistan and root out Taliban and al-Qaeda forces there. On January 7 an air strike on a Muslim clerics home in North Waziristan, Pakistan, killed eight Pakistanis and wounded nine others. Residents reportedly said that U.S. helicopters launched the attack, landed, seized five people, and flew toward Afghanistan.
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