Top general in Afghanistan says he needs more troops

The senior U.S. general in Afghanistan said Tuesday that he is fighting the war with too few ground troops and that even the reinforcements President Bush announced last week are insufficient. He said the shortage compels him to use more air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties.

Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that he realized the only way he would receive the additional ground forces he needs is for Washington to decide to divert them from Iraq.

He spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who arrived in Kabul on Tuesday evening after presiding at a ceremony in Baghdad where Gen. Ray Odierno took over for Gen. David Petraeus as the top commander of the 146,000 U.S. troops fighting that war.

McKiernan said his Washington bosses had validated his request for three more ground combat brigades, in addition to the Army brigade that Bush announced will deploy to Afghanistan in January instead of going to Iraq.

He said the brigade coming in January will merely fill an immediate need for more help in eastern Afghanistan and cited a need for at least 10,000 additional ground troops, beyond the 3,700 due early next year.

Violence is down substantially in Iraq and U.S. troop levels are declining, whereas the fighting is heating up in Afghanistan and more U.S. troops are needed. It will fall to the next U.S. president to decide how to balance resources on both fronts.

McKiernan said he believed it was a question of when, not whether, he would get the troops he has requested.

Bush said last week that there was under way a “quiet surge” of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but McKiernan said he preferred not to think of the reinforcements as a surge because that would imply that the additional military power was being employed temporarily.