More NATO troops are needed in Afghanistan to battle a rising Taliban insurgency and to train Afghan National Security Forces to take on the fighting. An additional 1,800 U.S. Marines are being deployed to Afghanistan in November, to be followed by an Army brigade of about 3,500 soldiers in January. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the U.S. plans to add up to 3 more combat brigades.
U.S. General John Craddock is NATO's supreme allied commander. "We hope," he said, "this will be a lead effort, a forcing function for other nations to increase their contributions." Along with more combat forces, NATO needs to provide more trainers for the Afghan National Army as well as other key assets such as helicopters. "We need to fill up our military requirements," said General Craddock, "we also need then to expand and reach out to other areas – the civil-military efforts – so we have more capability to increase the government's growth."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is made up of some 51-thousand troops drawn from 41 countries. ISAF has steadily increased its strength by about 70 percent over the last 2 years. It is tasked with fighting the Taliban and supporting the government of Afghanistan in providing security. By providing security, ISAF hopes to help extend the reach of the central government and efforts to help rebuild the country.
But the NATO mission faces a determined enemy in the Taliban-led insurgency, focused mainly in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. General Craddock said the insurgency "is more virulent, it is of a higher tempo than it was last year." The significant increase in attacks, said General Craddock, is due, in part, to the sanctuary that some Taliban fighters are finding across the mountainous border with Pakistan, as well as extra funds from the opium trade. "If they [the Taliban] have sanctuary," warned General Craddock, "then whenever they choose they will come back. This will go on forever. That safe-haven, that sanctuary has to be eliminated." NATO and the Afghan government are seeking greater cooperation with Pakistan to root out these safe-havens.
Secretary of Defense Gates recently told the people of Afghanistan, that they are not alone in standing up to violent extremists. "Let there be no doubt that the United States and our many partners around the globe are just as determined to help your country win the peace and freedom you deserve."