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Vol. 74/No. 45      November 29, 2010

Obama’s Afghan war
timetable: 2011 2014+
Gates: We’ll still be ‘out there killing’
(lead article)
U.S. officials have been making the media rounds to emphasize that U.S. troops will not be leaving Afghanistan in 2011 and don’t plan to hand over central responsibility to Afghan forces until the end of 2014 at the earliest.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by his side, told ABC News November 9, “If the Taliban are telling their supporters and their soldiers today, the Americans are leaving in July of 2011, they’re going to discover very quickly … we’re still there and we’re still out there killing.”

President Barack Obama’s July 2011 date was always about giving “the Afghan government a sense of urgency,” Gates said, not about withdrawal. Any drawdown of U.S. troops, he added, can only happen “based on the conditions on the ground.”

Washington has been pressuring its allies to keep troops in Afghanistan to back the U.S.-led war.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper had pledged to withdraw some 3,000 Canadian troops, who operate in southern Afghanistan, by the end of 2011. On November 11, however, Harper said Ottawa would keep up to 1,000 Canadian troops there to train Afghan forces.

Canadian troops have suffered the highest per capita casualties of all the NATO forces in the country, according to the Washington Post.

Since U.S. general David Petraeus took over command of the war effort from Gen. Stanley McChrystal in late June, U.S.-led forces have stepped up commando raids and aerial bombings, conducting some 2,600 air attack sorties, 50 percent more than in the same period last year.

U.S special operations soldiers have killed 339 midlevel Taliban commanders and 949 Taliban fighters in Kandahar in the last three months, according to U.S. commanders.

Washington is trying to transform the Afghan army and police into an effective fighting force. According to the Wall Street Journal, over the last year the size of the Afghan army has increased from 97,000 to 138,000 and the number of cops from 85,000 to 120,500.

Washington has raised salaries and cut training time in an effort to stem attrition, which has been as high as 140 percent per year among the police and is currently about 24 percent in the Afghan army. U.S. lieutenant general William Caldwell told the media that to reach NATO’s goal of 56,000 more Afghan soldiers and cops by next October, his command will need to sign up 141,000 new recruits.

Although 40 percent to 50 percent of the Afghan population is Pashtun, most Afghan soldiers are Tajik, Hazari, or Uzbek. In August, just 66 of 3,708 army recruits were Pashtuns. In southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is based, few Afghan army soldiers speak the local Pashtun language; they communicate using interpreters hired by the U.S. military.

Not confident that the Afghan army and police will ever be able to take the lead in fighting the Taliban, the Pentagon launched the Afghan Local Police Initiative this summer. Its goal is to organize at least 20,000 people into private, tribal-based militias.

Dominated by local warlords, the militiamen are given three weeks training, AK-47 rifles, a uniform, and some cash.

Beverly Bernardo in Montreal contributed to this article.
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