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Gates to consider more troops for Afghanistan

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    Gates to consider more troops for Afghanistan
    By Andrew Gray

    BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday he would consider more troops for Afghanistan where U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency, controlled from Pakistan, is expected to intensify.

    Gates, in Afghanistan to ensure commanders have the resources to counter an expected Taliban offensive in the spring, said it was very important the United States and its allies did not let the success achieved there slip away.

    Violence in Afghanistan increased last year to its bloodiest since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

    U.S. military commanders said attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan had surged, several-fold in some areas.

    Gates said he had discussed the situation with the commander of Afghanistan's NATO force, General David Richards, and others.

    Asked if the commanders had made a case for more troops, Gates said: "Yes."

    "They've indicated what they can do with different force levels," Gates told reporters at the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, at Bagram, north of Kabul, adding he would take those ideas back to the U.S. joint chiefs of staff for study.

    "At that point I'll make a recommendation to the president," said Gates, who arrived in Afghanistan late on Monday on his first trip to the country since taking over as defense secretary.

    Asked how many more troops might be sent, he said: "It depends on different scenarios and those are the kinds of decisions that we're going to have to look at."

    There are more than 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, the highest level since 2001, about 22,000 of them American.

    Separately, NATO said on Wednesday its forces had arrested a senior Taliban commander in a raid in the south of the country, while a Taliban spokesman arrested near the Pakistani border this week told interrogators Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar was in Pakistan.

    Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed three Afghan soldiers in the southeastern province of Khost as President Hamid Karzai was visiting a nearby area, officials said.

    PAKISTANI SANCTUARIES

    U.S. military officials in Kabul told reporters traveling with Gates command and control of the Afghan insurgency came from the Pakistani side of the border, where Pakistani forces have also been battling militants.

    Pakistan was the main backer of the Taliban during the 1990s but officially stopped helping the hardline Islamists after the September 11 attacks, when it joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

    But while Pakistan has arrested or killed hundreds of al Qaeda members, including several major figures, Afghanistan and some of its allies say it has failed to take effective action against Taliban leaders, their networks and sanctuaries.

    NATO said a prominent Taliban commander was arrested in a Tuesday night raid in Helmand province. The force declined to identify him but said he was the first known Taliban leader arrested by NATO and Afghan forces.

    The Afghan government said on Tuesday authorities had arrested a Taliban spokesman and aide to fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after he crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

    In a video recording of part of his interrogation released by Afghan authorities, the spokesman, Mohammad Hanif, said Omar was living in the Pakistani city of Quetta where he was being supported by Pakistan's main spy agency.

    Despite some doubts about Pakistani moves against the Taliban, a NATO spokesman said help from Pakistan led to the killing of a top Taliban commander in a U.S. strike last month.

    The commander killed in the December 19 air strike in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, was the most senior Taliban killed by U.S. forces since 2001.

    NATO spokesman Brigadier Richard Nugee also cited a Pakistani attack on a militant camp in its South Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday as an example of efforts to coordinate with Pakistan.

    Gates, who left Afghanistan later on Wednesday, said Pakistan was "an extraordinarily strong ally" in the war on terrorism but militancy on the Pakistani side of the border would have to be dealt with.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070117/ts_nm/afghan_dc