US generals pressing Obama to extend 'surge' against Taliban
US MILITARY commanders are urging President Barack Obama to extend the so-called "surge" of counter-insurgency forces fighting the Taliban and ignore growing pressure to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Senior generals, backed by Robert Gates, the outgoing defence secretary, are concerned that bringing home those forces engaged in the most volatile areas too soon could threaten hard-won gains.
Mr Obama is expected to announce next week that he will bring home 3,000 to 5,000 troops next month.
He may also reveal his thoughts on the more contentious issue of the timetable for pulling out the 33,000 reinforcements that began arriving early last year and which have been credited with pushing back the Taliban in the south.
The commanders want those troops to remain until late next year, whereas the White House has been leaning toward bringing them all out by that stage.
Senior figures such as Joe Biden, the vice president, argue that an even larger number should be withdrawn.
The Pentagon wants to put as much pressure as possible on the Taliban during this year's and next year's warm weather seasons, usually the period of heaviest fighting.
With progress being made in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, it hopes to transfer some "surge" troops to eastern provinces such as Khost, where the allied forces are thought to be too thin.
But extending the presence of the surge forces may also lead to an extended stay for British troops, against the wishes of David Cameron.
The British government is determined, as Washington professes to be, to end the combat role of British and NATO troops by the end of 2014. But given the difficulty of withdrawing most of the 140,000 NATO troops by then, that deadline could spill over.
Recognising that the public is growing weary of the war, US military officials are pointing out that their timeline would mean the president could promise large troop reductions just ahead of the November 2012 presidential elections.
Senator Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the armed services committee, has called for 15,000 troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, while Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah seeking the Republican 2012 nomination, has called for a rapid withdrawal.
NATO is due to hand over security to Afghans in seven areas next month, but there is unease about whether or not local forces are ready for the task. (© Daily Telegraph, London)