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Taliban vow to fight US troop surge in Afghanistan

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Taliban commander warns US

The Taliban say they will step up their fight in Afghanistan, after pledges by the US and its allies to send large reinforcements to the country.

A Taliban commander told the BBC that if more US troops came, more would die.

US President Barack Obama, announcing a long-awaited strategy on Tuesday, said another 30,000 American troops would be deployed quickly in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates told the US Congress that curbing the Taliban was essential for regional security.

Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Gates stressed that the US goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan was to defeat the al-Qaeda network - and to do that, the Taliban must be pushed back.

President Obama on the troop surge

"Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war," he said.

"Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al-Qaeda as well as a staging area for resurgent militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan."

He said the first of the new US troops could hit the ground in Afghanistan in two to three weeks.

"Beginning to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in summer 2011 is critical - and, in my view achievable," he said.

Senator John McCain, the senior Republican on the committee, told the BBC he backed Mr Obama's decision to deploy more troops but not the announcement that their withdrawal would begin in July 2011.

"We need to make it clear to the enemy that we're going to succeed and we are going to stay as long as necessary to succeed," he said.

He also warned that the US and UK should expect more casualties in the short term as the surge gets under way.

'More casualties'

The Taliban expressed defiance in the face of Mr Obama's commitment to send additional forces.

A Taliban commander, who did not give his name but is part of the ruling council in Wardak province, told the BBC there could be no peace talks until all foreign troops had left Afghanistan.

We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government
Barack Obama

He said: "Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan and that means more Americans will die. With just a handful of resources we can cause them even more casualties and deaths."

The commander claimed that foreign forces, not the Taliban, were responsible for most Afghan civilian deaths, but the opposite is true, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says.

Mr Obama reached his deployment decision after more than three months of deliberations and 10 top-level meetings with advisers.

In his speech at the West Point military academy in New York, he said US forces lacked "the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population".

"I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan," he told cadets.

"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home."

'Common fight'

Rising violence - more than 900 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan - and August's discredited elections in the country have fanned domestic opposition to the eight-year-old war.

MARDELL'S AMERICA
Mark Mardell
Mr Obama's top team have been on Capitol Hill trying to convince the serious and senior elected politicians that this is the right strategy

Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, who had asked for 40,000 extra troops, welcomed Mr Obama's speech, saying he had been given "a clear military mission" and the necessary resources.

The reinforcements will take the total number of US troops in Afghanistan to more than 100,000.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Kandahar says that Gen McChrystal's message is that the president's announcement is not just about troop numbers but about a new clarity in the US mission there.

He told troops that the success of their operation would be judged not on how many militants were killed but how many Afghans were given new opportunities and gave up their support for the insurgency, our correspondent says.

Gen McChrystal also backed Mr Obama's estimate that enough progress would have been made by 2011 for the withdrawal of American forces to begin, although he warned of further casualties to come.

Italian soldiers with the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, 2 Dec
Other Nato member countries have been urged to send more troops

Some 32,000 other foreign troops are also serving in Afghanistan. Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged members to do more.

He told reporters on Wednesday that 5,000 extra troops would be sent in 2010, and "probably" a few thousand in addition.

"This is our fight together," he said. "We must finish it together."

The UN envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told the BBC he did not believe the announcement from Washington amounted to an exit strategy because a long-term commitment remained.

He stressed the need to strengthen Afghan institutions at a local level and build a sustainable economy.

The Afghan government said it supported the new US strategy.

Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that with international help, Afghanistan's armed forces would be able to start taking responsibility for security in 18 months.



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