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Afghan envoy urges 40,000 more U.S. troops

Fri Oct 9, 2009 8:54am IST

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States urged the American public on Thursday to back proposals to send an additional 40,000 U.S. troops to his country, saying any less would not do the job.

Ambassador Said Jawad said he met senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus -- who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- to give his government's views on what was needed as President Barack Obama considers his options for Afghan strategy.

"Under the current security threat I think it would be reasonable to say that 40,000 troops will be needed. That would be the minimum required," Jawad told Reuters in an interview.

Ultimately, how many troops were needed depended on the quality of U.S. forces on offer, how quickly Afghanistan's own security could be built up and the level of cooperation from neighboring Pakistan, the envoy added.

More than 100,000 Western troops now serve in Afghanistan, about two-thirds of them American. General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has recommended that an extra 40,000 U.S. troops were the minimum necessary to prevail, two sources said on Thursday.

Obama will meet his security team again on Friday, when troop numbers are expected to be considered in his overhaul of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, an issue that has divided his administration as well as lawmakers.

Jawad said a shift to reduce forces in Afghanistan and focus instead on counter-terrorism efforts in neighboring Pakistan, one option under consideration, would be disastrous.

Public opinion is sagging for the Afghan war effort and there is dwindling support within Obama's own Democratic Party, with some members strongly opposing any troop buildup.

"We are trying to explain the danger of retreat and how it will embolden the terrorists in Afghanistan and the region," said Jawad.

"I am surprised at how Americans are back in the mind-set and mood of September 10, feeling that nothing will happen."

The United States began its war in Afghanistan eight years ago, just after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 when Afghanistan was seen as the epicenter of militancy.


Jawad urged the Obama administration to have more trust in the Afghan government and to stop "undermining" the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai, who is expected to win a fresh term when final results of August's election are announced, despite widespread allegations of ballot-rigging.

"We are both under pressure in Afghanistan and the United States to deliver results and no one is benefiting from undermining the elected leader of Afghanistan," Jawad said.

"The election was not perfect. There was fraud possibly but it is better to have a leader elected by most Afghans than a leader appointed or removed by an individual of a foreign capital."

Key U.S. lawmakers who met Obama this week to discuss an overhaul of strategy in Afghanistan raised concerns over claims of corruption against Karzai and questioned whether he was a partner Washington could trust.

Jawad said there was a constant "recycling" of corruption allegations against Karzai's relatives, adding he personally had asked repeatedly for evidence of this but so far it had not been forthcoming.

"All this is politically motivated and it undermines the political leadership," he said.

Jawad said there also needed to be a greater focus on a so-called civilian surge with more U.S. technical assistance provided as well as access to credit, especially for small and medium-sized businesses in Afghanistan.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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