The Washington Post reports today that President Bush is facing new pressure from the U.S. Military to accelerate a force reduction in Iraq in order to increase capabilities in Afghanistan.
Administration officials said the White House could start to debate the future of the American military commitment in both Iraq and Afghanistan as early as next month. Some Pentagon officials are urging a further drawdown of forces in Iraq beyond that envisioned by the White House, which is set to reduce the number of combat brigades from 20 to 15 by the end of next summer. At the same time, commanders in Afghanistan are looking for several additional battalions, helicopters and other resources to confront a resurgent Taliban movement.
Administration officials say the White House has become more concerned in recent months about the situation in Afghanistan, where grinding poverty, rampant corruption, poor infrastructure and the growing challenge from the Taliban are hindering U.S. stabilization efforts. Senior administration officials now believe Afghanistan may pose a greater longer-term challenge than Iraq.
According to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there are currently 41,700 troops (including National Support Elements) in Afghanistan. However, as the Post reports, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia have assumed the heaviest part of the combat burden alongside U.S. troops.
U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, is asking for an additional three battalions of troops from NATO countries -- the equivalent of another brigade combat team -- but colleagues believe that would not be enough. U.S. officials are doubtful that allies will provide all the requested troops, and predict Bush will be faced with a request for even more U.S. troops, possibly after attending a NATO summit in April in Bucharest, Romania.
U.S. officials said Bush may also consider revamping the current military structure in Afghanistan, which has McNeill serving alongside a four-star NATO commander. Restrictions by NATO members on how their troops can be used -- Germany, for instance, limits where its forces can be deployed -- have made it difficult to mount a coherent response to the Taliban resurgence. U.S. forces, which have been largely confined to a small part of the country in the east, have little presence in the south, where much of the insurgency has taken hold.