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U.S. Afghan Buildup Needed, NATO Commander Says

NATO Commander General John Craddock: "We can't hold everywhere we want to."
MUNICH (Reuters) -- The Obama administration needs to follow through on plans to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan if international forces are to deny territory to insurgents, NATO's top operations commander has said.

The new U.S. government is still debating Pentagon plans for additional troops for Afghanistan that could nearly double the U.S. force to about 60,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.

Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, U.S. General John Craddock said the strategy of NATO forces was to clear territory of insurgents and to hold it to allow for development and reconstruction. Currently, there are not enough troops to do all of this, he said.

The impact, in the absence of new forces from the United States or other countries, would be that "we can't hold everywhere we want to," Craddock said. "We will continue to clear, hold a while, and when the next clear requirement comes, we will move the hold force into another clear and then the insurgents...come back."

The Pentagon said on February 6 it was still on track to send three additional combat units to Afghanistan by midsummer.

Still Being Debated

Obama had been widely expected to approve as early as last week a plan to deploy up to 17,000 additional combat troops.

But U.S. officials said last week the plan was still being debated in the White House National Security Council. It has come under scrutiny there at a time when the Obama administration is also considering options for withdrawing forces from Iraq, where there are 144,000 U.S. troops.

Craddock expressed concern that nations were reluctant to commit funds and personnel to train Afghan security forces supposed eventually to take over from international forces.

He said a NATO trust fund had been set up with the aim of generating $2 billion to help fund development of Afghan forces.

"I will tell you it is a mere pittance of that now and it's very difficult with this economic downturn to get increased contributions," Craddock said.

The global crisis also meant donors had failed to meet pledges of $21 billion of development assistance, he said.

Craddock said that to combat the insurgency, it was vital for the government to tackle corruption and poor governance that was eroding its public support.

"Governance is stuck top dead center and that is the critical path that must be addressed now. The corruption and the inefficient government must be addressed -- that is key."