Afghanistan Welcomes New Obama Strategy

KABUL ~ President Hamid Karzai has welcomed a US decision to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan and set a timeline to bring forces home, as the Taliban vowed to escalate the eight-year war.

Kabul has long called for the deployment of more than the 113,000 NATO and US troops currently trying to crush an insurgency that is at its deadliest and most widespread since US-led troops ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.

Obama vowed on Wednesday (Bali time) that the 30,000-strong surge would see troops in Afghanistan “seize the initiative” to end the unpopular war and start a pull-out in July 2011.

An embattled Karzai, who is under massive Western pressure to root out corruption after a disastrous August re-election steeped in fraud, welcomed the new US commitment and vowed to shoulder more of the security burden.

Afghanistan “hopes that the increase in US troops will help further protect Afghan people and enhance security in the country,” said a statement from his office.

“Afghanistan believes that setting a timetable for the reduction of US forces will pave the way for the growth of the Afghan security forces and the eventual self-reliance we seek,” it added.

“Afghanistan will spare no effort in achieving the above objectives,” it said, adding that Karzai was “pleased to see” Afghan views on the principle issues facing the war-torn country had been considered by the United States.

Karzai has made taking responsibility for the country’s security quagmire a major objective of his next five years in office.

Afghanistan wants Pakistan to better seal its porous mountain border and to clamp down on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants holed up on Pakistani soil and accused of directing attacks on Afghan and Western troops.

Karzai welcomed the “recognition of the regional dimension of terrorism and preventing terrorists from entering the territory of Afghanistan” – a nod towards Pakistan.

But the Islamist insurgent militia vowed to step up resistance and threatened to send the new US troops home in body bags, dealing a similar fate meted out to British and Russian “invaders” in the past.

“Obama will witness lots of coffins heading to America from Afghanistan,” spokesman Yousuf Ahamdi said by telephone from an unknown location.

“Their hope to control Afghanistan by military means will not become reality,” he said, reading from a statement.

“The extra 30,000 troops that will come to Afghanistan will provoke stronger resistance and fighting,” he added.

“They will withdraw shamefully. They cannot achieve their hopes and goals,” the rebel spokesman said.

Afghan officials have laid out ambitious plans to boost army and police numbers by up to 400,000 but analysts warn it could take up to another decade to build the expertise of personnel in this corrupt and illiterate country.

Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, who had requested tens of thousands of extra troops to avoid defeat, said he now had “the resources to accomplish our task” and that his “main focus” will be to build up Afghan security forces.

General Stanley McChrystal, who expects to command more than 140,000 NATO and US troops once reinforcements arrive, vowed to transfer responsibility to Afghan security forces “as rapidly as conditions allow.”

Afghan officials say there are nearly 100,000 troops in the country’s army, which is projected to grow to 136,000 next year. Karzai allies are calling for up to 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 policemen.

But General Egon Ramms, a German commander in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, warned last month that the police, numbering around 68,000, are prone to corruption and training has been less than efficient.

Out of 94,000 Afghan soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected, he said, adding that about 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts.

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