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U.S. Defense Secretary Says 'It's An Afghan War, Not Our War'

Gates said he doesn't expect "significant" help from NATO allies.
(RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he does not expect NATO allies to commit significant forces to fight the rising Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan forces need to expand as quickly as possible so that the conflict is not seen as "America's war."

Gates said the United States would try to send over 10,000 additional troops to Afghanistan next year.

Speaking on October 31, Gates explained that he did not expect NATO allies to send significantly larger numbers of additional forces for the war in Afghanistan.

He did note that some of them, however, have "indicated their willingness" to deploy some extra troops in the country.

Gates said the longer-term solution to the rising insurgency in Afghanistan is to expand Afghan military forces and hand over the fight to Afghan troops.

"This needs to be an Afghan war, not an American war or not a NATO war," he said.

"We would be making a terrible mistake if this ends up being called America's war," Gates continued. "This is the Afghans' war for their own country, and we need to make sure they know we are not there to run it, we are there to help."

Zubair Shafiqi, a Kabul-based expert on political affairs, says that many Afghans, too, believe it is indeed an Afghan war, although, since the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001, it has been led by foreigners.

Shafiqi says it would be both to the United States' and Afghanistan's benefit if the international community helped to contribute to the expansion of the Afghan National Army by providing funds, equipment, and training for Afghan forces, instead of sending their own troops to fight against the Taliban.

"The more it becomes 'an Afghan issue,' 'an Afghan defense' and the Afghan Army strengthens, the more this crisis will near its end," Shafiqi says. "It would become much easier to solve. The international troops can only solve the problem in the shorter term, they can only bring security to some extent. But reinforcing the Afghan Army is the only solution in the long run."

The Taliban-led insurgency has been growing in Afghanistan over the past two years, with many Afghans saying the violence is now at its highest level since the Taliban regime was toppled seven years ago.

The United States has deployed over 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some 17,000 of them serve in the NATO-led international coalition charged with helping stabilizing the country. The coalition is made up of some 53,000 soldiers from 43 different countries, including all NATO allies.

Both U.S. presidential candidates, Democratic Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain, have promised to send more troops to Afghanistan.