McChrystal promises Afghan surge results by mid-2010
L (AFP) - The US commander in Afghanistan said Thursday a troop surge should start turning the tide of war by mid-2010 as Barack Obamas new strategy won reinforcements from Italy and backing from Russia.
As senior US officials said a timeline for troops to start leaving was not set in stone, General Stanley McChrystal said Obamas new war strategy would enable more troops to target Taliban strongholds.
Following Obamas announcement on Tuesday that he would send 30,000 more troops into combat, NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to consider the US presidents appeal for them to beef up the mission further.
So far only Britain has committed extra troops, pledging to send another 500 to join a 9,500 contingent that is already the second largest in the 113,000-strong coalition.
But a source in Italys defence ministry said Rome would send between 500 and 1,500 reinforcements in 2010.
We are looking at figures ranging between 500 and 1,500, the source told AFP, adding that the final number would likely be fairly close to 1,000.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said press reports of 1,500 reinforcements were hypothetical and at the upper end of the scale being discussed.
While Russia is not part of the coalition, President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready to support the new US strategy by letting troops transit its territory and helping with training and economic projects.
We are ready to support these efforts, guarantee the transit (of troops), take part in economic projects and train police and the military, Medvedev said at a press conference with Italys Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
NATOs foreign ministers gathered in Brussels for a two-day meeting which is to focus Friday on Afghanistan after US Secretary of State Hillary Clintons arrival.
McChrystal, in command of both US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, had been pushing for 40,000 troops to join the war against the Taliban militia and their Al-Qaeda allies, now in its ninth year.
In a speech to Afghan lawmakers, he said some of the new troops would train Afghan security forces and the rest would fan out across the south and east where the Taliban insurgency is strongest.
What that allows us to do is, starting right at the beginning of next month, is to start providing security in areas that we have not been able to provide security in yet because of insufficient forces, he told deputies.
I believe by next summer you will see significant improvements in security, he added.
McChrystals appearance in the Afghan parliament came after Clinton and other senior US officials were grilled by US senators, many of them unhappy that Obama set a July 2011 timeline for troops to start withdrawing.
But speaking ahead of another appearance on Capitol Hill, the top uniformed US military officer said not only was there no set date for US troops to finish withdrawing, the number leaving in 2011 could be very few.
There is no set date for US troops to finish withdrawing from Afghanistan, and the number of soldiers leaving in 2011 could be very few, the top uniformed US military officer said on Thursday.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told CBS News that the 2011 deadline cited by President Barack Obama this week in unveiling a plan to send 30,000 more US troops to the conflict was only a start date for withdrawal.
Its very clear that the president has given us guidance that in July of 2011, well start to transition security responsibility to the Afghan national security forces, Mullen said on the Early Show.
Theres no determination of how long that will take... Theres no specific guidance with respect to how many. It could be very few, it could be a large number, he added.
The top US military official added that the withdrawal would be conducted responsibly and based on conditions on the ground.