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thedrifter
04-11-07, 09:48 PM
Gates to press allies for Afghanistan support
By Lolita C. Baldor - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Apr 11, 2007 21:11:52 EDT

WASHINGTON — The United States is pressing allies in Afghanistan to contribute additional forces, equipment and other resources to mount a broad NATO-led offensive against the Taliban this spring.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was to meet with a number of military leaders in Canada late Wednesday and Thursday, was not expected to offer any additional U.S. troops, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

About a half-dozen defense ministers from countries working together in the volatile southern sector of Afghanistan will discuss how to “fill those last critical pieces that are needed,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings had not yet taken place.

Among those would be aircraft and helicopters, additional trainers for the Afghanistan security forces, and some increased flexibility in how some troops can be used. Certain forces are limited in how or where they can be used, and those restrictions have been a prime complaint by the U.S. and NATO.

Gates will meet with a number of officials, including military leaders from Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania.

The U.S. now has about 25,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some 14,000 serving in the NATO-led force, which totals 32,000 troops. Earlier this year, Gates ordered the extension of a U.S. brigade in Afghanistan, increasing the American commitment in preparation for what he said should be an allied offensive against the Taliban this spring.

Afghanistan’s south is the center of the Taliban insurgency. Last month, NATO-led troops launched their biggest offensive yet in the region aimed at winning over the local population and targeting militants and their supply routes.

Afghan and NATO officials say they expect violence to increase this spring and summer. Last year, Taliban militants set off a record number of suicide and roadside bombs.

Australia announced this week that it plans to nearly double its forces in Afghanistan, adding 400 troops by midyear to its contingent of 550 serving there, and then adding another 50 by the middle of 2008.

Ellie