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NATO Commander Hopes For Obama Boost To Afghan Effort

U.S. General John Craddock
MONS, Belgium (Reuters) -- NATO's operations commander has said he hopes a renewed focus by the incoming Obama administration on Afghanistan would encourage allies to commit more troops to the conflict there.

U.S. General John Craddock acknowledged that Washington's allies did not have the same military might as the United States. He also stressed the importance of development work and in improving governance.

At a news briefing at his headquarters in Mons, Belgium, Craddock welcomed indications that U.S. President-elect Barack
Obama would renew the U.S. focus on Afghanistan, the biggest ground war in NATO's history.

"The United States has committed to increase force levels and I hope there will be a forcing function to get increased contributions from other nations," he said.

Craddock said that despite a 73-percent increase in the strength of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in the past two years -- it now stands at some 50,500 -- more troops were needed and insurgent activity had mounted.

There were still no ISAF forces at all in two Afghan provinces -- Nimroz and Daikhundi -- and no offers, he said.

Craddock said NATO aimed to boost security throughout the country for next year's presidential elections.

He expected Washington to provide a brigade combat team of some 3,500 in January and it was also looking at how to source ISAF's request for three more -- one to train police and two more for combat.

'Slim To None'

Craddock said he recognized that apart from the United States, perhaps only a couple of other 25 NATO allies could provide a fully equipped combat brigade.

"Would I like to have a brigade combat team from a non-U.S. ally or partner?" he asked. "You bet. What's the likelihood that one's available? Slim to none. What's the likelihood of a battalion or battle group? Much higher...What's the likelihood of three medevac helicopters? Pretty good."

Speaking before a meeting of NATO foreign minsters next week, Craddock reiterated a long standing NATO plea for more military training teams for Afghan forces. He also called for more civilian experts, including mentors for government departments and agricultural advisers.

"That would be helpful...this is bigger than just the military side of this. We need a civilian side of this that brings in functional expertise to help build capacity in all levels of the Afghan government," he said.

Craddock said insurgent activity had increased significantly in southern and eastern districts and the insurgents were targeting development work.

"The insurgents understand the more successful we are at that the less foothold they have. They are trying to destroy what we build. We build, they destroy."

"It is harder, tougher, more engagements every week, every month... about 40 percent more," he said. "Where this insurgency has a foothold, it is more virulent this year than last and 2007 was a little more than 2006."