WASHINGTON– The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said yesterday that while he’s pleased with President Barack Obama’s authorization to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, tough times are ahead.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said at a Pentagon news conference that the reinforcement fulfills about two-thirds of his request for additional forces and will provide enough manpower to sustain security through the summer.

“Those forces, of course, are aimed at being operational by the highest part of the insurgent fighting season this summer, and to be in place and operational before the projected elections in August of 2009,” McKiernan said. The additional forces also are needed “to give us a security foundation that will allow the other lines of operations in governance and socioeconomic progress to take place and change what I’ve called a stalemate in the south,” the general said.

The additional forces will focus their efforts in the south and along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan to combat insurgents. However, the lack of a strong central government for three decades, combined with high illiteracy and poverty rates and a resilient enemy, doesn’t offer a quick solution for Afghanistan, McKiernan said.

“Even with the additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year,” he said. “While this will give us a security foundation, we certainly need additional contributions — civilian capacity-building programs that will enable people in Afghanistan to feel hope and to develop their abilities to take the lead for their governance.”

About 38,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, including about 6,000 reinforcements from the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and a contingent of Marines who arrived last month. Another 19,000 troops from 42 other countries make up the balance of allied efforts there.

The 17,000 additional troops are made up primarily of soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The incoming troops, as well as those currently in Afghanistan, can expect a “dual mission,” McKiernan said, noting he asked for a Marine expeditionary brigade and an Army Stryker brigade because of their versatility. He wanted units with counterinsurgency capabilities that also could provide security for the population and partner with Afghan forces, he explained, adding that Afghan border and national police forces need trainers and organizers, which the additional troops also will provide.

“[The additional units] are battle-space owners conducting counterinsurgency operations, but they’re also developing capacity and capability in the Afghan policing forces,” he said. “Training and mentoring … will be part of the units’ mission.”

When McKiernan took command in Afghanistan less than a year ago, he requested 30,000 additional forces. Even after the increased U.S. presence takes hold, he still will need 10,000 to 12,000 more, whether they come from allies in NATO or the United States, he said. He told reporters he probably will not ask for any more troops beyond that, but he stressed that the additional forces are not a short-term proposition.

“This is not a temporary force uplift. … It’s going to need to be sustained for some period of time,” he said. “I can’t give an exact number of years that it would be, but I’m trying to look out for the next three to four or five years.”

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