International Affairs

Gates approves $20 Billion in Afghan Aid

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will endorse a $20 billion plan to substantially increase the size of ANA and will also restructure the military command of American and NATO forces in response to the growing Taliban threat, senior Pentagon and military officials said.

Taken together, the two decisions announced Thursday are an acknowledgment of shortcomings that continue to hinder NATO- and American-led operations in Afghanistan. With the war in Iraq still an obstacle to any immediate American troop increase in Afghanistan, the plan was described by officials as an attempt to increase allied and Afghan capabilities in advance of deploying the additional American brigades that Gates and his commanders agree are necessary.

The additional American troops are unlikely to be available until next year. Under a plan initially proposed by the Afghan government and now endorsed by Gates, the Afghan National Army will nearly double in size over the next five years, to more than 120,000 active-duty troops.

Such a large increase would not be possible without American funds, which will pay for trainers and for equipment, food and housing for Afghan forces. But Pentagon officials said that Gates would seek contributions from allies to help underwrite the $20 billion cost over five years. In a closely related decision, Gates plans to reshape a command structure that has divided the NATO and American missions in Afghanistan, a system now viewed as unwieldy in the face of increasing insurgent violence, senior Pentagon and military officials said.

Gates has pledged that the United States will work to send up to two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan next year, a force that would number 6,000 to 10,000 troops. Previously, the goal had been to expand the Afghan Army to 80,000 from 63,000 troops, and funds had already been allocated for that. The $20 billion will pay for the additional increase in soldiers.

Pentagon officials expect that they will need an estimated $5 billion per year for the first three years of the expansion, and then about $3 billion for each of the final two years of the expansion.
The United States will work with allies to help pay for the effort, Morrell said. Any new American money for the expanded Afghan army, or proposals to divert money currently in the budget to that effort, would have to be approved by Congress.-SANA

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Mubashar Nizam

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