The administration of US president Barack Obama is to announce the deployment of an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, according to the Afghan ambassador to Washington, as the US steps up its efforts to contain the growing Taliban insurgency.
The move would be controversial in Washington, where some influential politicians, led by Joe Biden, the vice-president, are at odds with General Stanley McChrystal, the US’s senior commander in Kabul, who has publicly requested tens of thousands more troops.
“The indications are that the president will comply with the demands of Gen McChrystal and the number he is asking for is more than 40,000,” Said Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to Washington, said on Thursday, citing conversations with officials from the Pentagon and other government departments.
“With the current security threat, we need troops in order to provide time and space for training the Afghan police force,” Mr Jawad said.
He added that the Afghan government had not yet officially been informed.
The White House declined to comment on the claims while the National Security Council reiterated that no decision had yet been made.
The Obama administration has been weighing the decision for several weeks against increasing public discomfort with the costly eight-year war.
A senior British official said that that Mr Obama would announce a “strong” plan soon.
Recent speculation that the administration was considering scaling back the mission,abandoning nation-building and relying more on technology to target terrorist suspects was wide of the mark, he said.
“This idea that there will roll back and we’ll end up with a drone-based war from 10,000ft with half the number of troops . . . that’s not the real world,” he said.
There are now 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan following the despatch in February of an additional 21,000 soldiers.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said yesterday: “I don’t want to peg acertain date, except to reiterate what the president said, a decision . . . would be made in the coming weeks.”
Mr Jawad cautioned that the success of the deployment depended on the nature of the mission.
He said: “If we have troops who are not allowed to operate outside their bases, that is not going to be very helpful.”
Part of the decision rested on US and international assessments of the August presidential election, which opponents of incumbent Hamid Karzai allege was rigged, he said.
Some former military commanders say the public nature of the discussion, combined with the delays in making a decision, could give the Taliban time to prepare for further attacks. But how successful any addition would be depended on whether Pakistan simultaneously cracked down on Taliban militants in its territory, and on the new troops’ orders, the Afghan ambassador said. “If they are better equipped and more mobile, then they can cover larger areas,” Mr Jawad said. “But if we have troops who are not allowed to operate outside their bases, that is not going to be very helpful.”