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US: US preparing for troop buildup in Afghanistan

By Lolita C Baldor
06 Dec 2008 4:34 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec 5 AP - The US military is beginning a massive building effort in Afghanistan to house the roughly 20,000 additional troops, including an undetermined increase in marines, that are expected to begin pouring in early next year, a top military officer said on Friday.

Major General Michael Tucker, deputy commander for operations for US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters military leaders are anticipating a "very active winter" of insurgency attacks.

And while he provided few details, he said there was a "very huge building campaign that has already begun. We're pushing dirt as we speak to prepare for the arrival of these forces."

He could not quantify the number of buildings or contractors involved, but said the military has done several in-depth studies over the past month and a half to determine how many buildings, helicopter pads, dining facilities and even latrines they will need.

US defence officials have said they will build up the number of forces in Afghanistan as soon as they can free up troop commitments in Iraq. Commanders in Afghanistan have said they need four more combat brigades, along with thousands of other support forces, including intelligence, surveillance, aviation and logistics personnel.

One combat brigade is expected to arrive in Afghanistan next month, but the other three have not yet been identified.

Defence officials said the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division is expected to go to Afghanistan early next summer, but it will replace one there that is scheduled to leave. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the final orders have not been signed.

Tucker said at least some of those extra forces will be marines, but he would not say how many or when they might arrive.

Officials baulk at likening the impending troop escalation in Afghanistan to the surge in Iraq credited in part for the decline in violence there. But some of the goals are the same.

Military leaders say they need to improve security and tamp down the stubborn insurgency in the more rural regions of the country, so they can reach out to the populations there. That strategy mirrors the counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, where troops pushed into difficult neighbourhoods to clear out militants, and maintained the security long enough for governance to take hold, and reconstruction and repairs to begin.

In Afghanistan, however, the population is more far-flung, in rural communities that stretch up into the rugged mountains - where passage in the winter is sometimes impossible.

So, Tucker said, more troops are needed to get to some of those more remote locations.

"We anticipate a very active, a very active winter," said Tucker, adding that forces will press to attack insurgency in their safe havens - largely in the mountain border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "We see no change in our operation. And if he wants to continue to fight through the winter, we'll be here to fight him."

He said US and NATO troops have stepped up their counter-narcotics operations. Some allies, he acknowledged, are reluctant to participate in more aggressive operations, but are contributing in other ways, such as helicopter transportation, medical evacuations and intelligence gathering.

There are about 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition and 18,000 training the Afghan security forces and fighting insurgents.