WASHINGTON, July 30, 2009 – Increasing the numbers of Afghan military forces and police is essential for Afghanistan ultimately to assume responsibility for its own security, a senior U.S. diplomat said here yesterday.

“An expansion of the armed services and police of Afghanistan is obviously necessary,” Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters at a State Department news conference.

“It’s absolutely essential that over time Afghanistan assume responsibility for its own security,” said Holbrooke, who was appointed to his position by President Barack Obama in January.

On March 27, Obama announced his plan to increase U.S. support to Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat terrorist elements that operate in the region and to provide security and a better quality of life for Afghan citizens. Before the strategy review, 17,000 additional U.S. troops were approved for deployment to southern Afghanistan. Some of those troops will mentor Afghan soldiers and police, while others will battle Taliban insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists.

The Afghan National Army has about 90,000 troops, with plans to boost that force to about 134,000. Afghan National Police ranks are expected to increase from about 82,000 officers now to 87,000 police by 2011.

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan have for years assisted in the training of new Afghan soldiers and police. Holbrooke praised Japan’s act of paying the salaries of Afghanistan’s police, and he saluted the European Gendarmerie Force for its efforts in training Afghan police officers. The force includes police officers from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Romania.

The United States also continues “to support extensive training of the [Afghan] army and police,” Holbrooke said. Yet, he added, it is “apparent that the current level of the national security forces of Afghanistan are not going to be sufficient in the long run.”

U.S. and international agencies also are helping the Afghans prepare for their Aug. 20 presidential and provincial elections, Holbrooke said. U.S. officials will consult with the new Afghan government after the election, he added, to ascertain its needs regarding the numbers of its soldiers and police. “And then we’ll see how we can support them,” Holbrooke said.

Meanwhile, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior U.S. military officer in Afghanistan and commander of NATO forces there, is working on an assessment to determine what is required to implement Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan. About 58,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan now, and that number is expected to increase to about 68,000 troops later this year. About 39,000 NATO troops are serving in Afghanistan.

During his July 17 visit to the Navy’s Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, Ill., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters he expects to receive McChrystal’s Afghanistan report in a few weeks. He also said he was concerned that the “foreign military footprint gets too big” in Afghanistan.

“This is the Afghans’ war, and we are there as their partners and their friends, and that’s the whole thrust of General McChrystal’s strategy,” Gates said. “And so I’m awaiting his assessment, and we will make a rigorous evaluation of it.”

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