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U.S. Troop Build-Up In Afghanistan 'On Track'

Major General Mart de Kruif
VALKENBURG, Netherlands (Reuters) -- The influx of thousands of extra U.S. troops to southern Afghanistan should be complete before a presidential election in Afghanistan set for August, the NATO commander in the region has said.

The United States is adding more than 30,000 troops to its force in Afghanistan this year, with the overwhelming majority expected to be deployed to the south, scene of the worst insurgent violence.

"Our goal is to have the influx complete before the elections on the 20th of August," said Mart de Kruif, chief of the southern command of international forces deployed there.

"That means that we'll have the equipment in, we'll have the people in, and that people are adapted to the circumstances in Afghanistan," de Kruif told reporters.

"This will lead to a significant increase of the operational tempo we have and you'll also see a significant spike in the amount of incidents in the next couple of months because we will put a lot of pressure on the insurgents, he said.

"We will go into areas where we've never been before," added de Kruif, who commands about 28,000 troops in the south including the provinces of Uruzgan and Kandahar.

Violence in Afghanistan has grown even as the number of foreign troops has increased this year, reaching its worst levels since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban's Islamist government in late 2001.

Defense ministers from the eight countries with forces in southern Afghanistan, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are meeting near Maastricht in the Netherlands before a NATO meeting in Brussels on June 11.

The Netherlands has deployed about 1,800 troops, most in the province of Uruzgan, to Afghanistan and in April hosted an international conference on the future of the war-torn country.

De Kruif added that logistical support in the south was "overall, on schedule."

Defense ministers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Romania, Denmark, and Estonia are also attending the two-day meeting in the Netherlands.