By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 3, 2009 - More U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to confront insurgent violence and to establish "a baseline of security" there, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters here today. Escalating levels of violence committed by resurgent Taliban fighters and al-Qaida terrorists operating in southern and eastern Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan has caused "a deteriorating security situation," Morrell said at a Pentagon news conference.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have acknowledged the need to shift the U.S. military's focus from a less-violent Iraq to more-volatile Afghanistan, Morrell said.
"And the No. 1 focus of that goal is ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists, a place from which they can plot and launch attacks against us or our allies," Morrell said.
The U.S. military's task in Afghanistan "fundamentally is a counterinsurgency mission," Morrell said. "That likely will continue to be the case, albeit with more troops."
Commanders in Afghanistan have asked for 30,000 additional troops, which effectively would double the U.S. troop contingent there.
More U.S. forces are needed in Afghanistan so that it does not revert to being a terrorist haven, said Morrell, who emphasized that Obama would have to approve any additional troop deployments to Afghanistan.
However, the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan also will include political and economic components, Morrell said, noting Obama addressed those issues when he met with senior civilian and military leaders at the Pentagon last week.
"This will be a multifaceted approach to dealing with the problems we face in Afghanistan," Morrell said, adding that "everybody acknowledges this cannot be done with troops alone."
But, "troops are essential, at least in the near term, to try to reverse the slide in some parts of the country in security," Morrell said. "And I think everybody recognizes that."
Meanwhile, Morrell said, the situation in Iraq continues to improve. He cited the "very healthy voter turnout throughout the country" for the Jan. 31 provincial elections that were held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. More than 50 percent of Iraq's voters cast their ballots at polling stations, which experienced almost no security incidents, he said.
The lack of major violence during the Iraqi provincial elections "was another milestone in the progress that Iraq has made toward becoming a stable and thriving democracy," Morrell said.
As conditions in Iraq continue to improve, Obama wants to draw down U.S. combat troops from there "as quickly and as responsibly as possible," Morrell said.