Saturday, March 11, 2006
US military expects violent Afghan spring-admiral
Message:Article Title: US military expects violent Afghan spring-admiral
U.S. forces in Afghanistan expect violent clashes with al Qaeda-linked insurgents in coming months before security improves later in the year, a senior military officer said on Thursday
WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Afghanistan expect violent clashes with al Qaeda-linked insurgents in coming months before security improves later in the year, a senior military officer said on Thursday.Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, U.S. Central Command director for plans and policy, told a congressional hearing an upsurge in violence could stem from U.S. and NATO forces extending their reach into parts of Afghanistan where the insurgent presence is greater. "We anticipate that we are going to see a fairly violent spring and summer and then an improvement in overall conditions," he told the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.
The 26-member NATO alliance is preparing to expand its International Security Assistance Force mission -- already in the north, west and the capital Kabul -- to the more volatile south and ultimately the east, raising its troop numbers to 16,000 from 9,000.
Some 23,000 U.S. troops in the country are targeting Taliban and al Qaeda forces. U.S.-led forces in 2001 overthrew Taliban rulers who had harbored the al Qaeda network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, but failed to extinguish the radical Islamic movement and its al Qaeda allies.
An insurgency that has killed more than 1,500 people since the start of last year has intensified in recent months with a wave of suicide bombings.
Moeller played down the strategic threat posed by al Qaeda, the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
"The overall trend line, though, is positive despite the fact that the data is what the data is with regard to U.S. forces who have been killed in the recent past compared to the first couple years," he told the subcommittee.
Moeller described al Qaeda, its allied Taliban remnants and two other groups as "patient, hidden and dangerous" opponents of the U.S.-led coalition troops and the 26,000-strong Afghan army.
The Taliban "appeared tactically stronger on the battlefield this year and they demonstrate an increased willingness to use suicide bomber and IED (improvised explosive device) tactics," he said.
"The Taliban do not have capability to exercise control over large areas of Afghanistan, but they are disruptive to reconstruction and reconciliation efforts," said the admiral.
Another foe, the Taliban-linked Haqqani Tribal Network, was the "most tactically proficient" insurgent group but its goal was limited to gaining autonomy in eastern Afghanistan and among tribesmen in Pakistan, Moeller said.
A third al Qaeda affiliate, the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin was heavily involved in narcotics smuggling and "more of a mafia-like organization than an insurgent movement with national goals," he said.
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