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New U.S. Troops To Focus On Afghan Capital, Says Report

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Most of the additional U.S. troops heading to Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near Kabul, reflecting worries about the capital's vulnerability, "The New York Times" has reported.

Citing U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan, the "Times" said the plans for incoming brigades would result in fewer or no reinforcements being available, at least for the time being, for areas of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most acute.

The focus on the capital also meant most of the new troops would not be deployed with the main goal of containing the cross-border insurgent flow from their rear bases in Pakistan -- something U.S. commanders would like and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also recommended, the newspaper said.

Violence in Afghanistan has surged to levels not seen since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the country's former Taliban rulers, prompting commanders to call for more troops.

U.S. and NATO commanders said the need to protect the capital, hit new Taliban strongholds in Wardak and Logar provinces adjacent to Kabul, and provide security for development programs there were immediate concerns, the newspaper reported.

The move would mark the first time that U.S. or coalition forces have been deployed in large numbers on Kabul's southern flank, the "Times" said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on December 5 the Bush administration's review of its policies in Afghanistan was almost complete and would provide an up-to-date strategy for President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on January 20.

The new army brigade, the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, consisting of 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers, is slated to go to Afghanistan in January, the newspaper said.

The "vast majority" would be sent to Logar and Wardak provinces, Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for U.S. units in eastern Afghanistan, told the "Times." Several hundred soldiers would then move to the border region in the east, an area in which U.S. forces have engaged in fierce fighting with insurgents this year.

Karzai's spokesman told the "Times" there was no conflict between the January deployment and the Afghan president's statements in recent months that the fight against insurgents should not be waged in Afghanistan's villages, but rather in the eastern and southern borderlands.