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THE STANS
Obama's toughest decision? 30,000-troop Afghanistan 'surge'
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 8, 2017


Around 200 NATO troops deployed to Afghanistan's Farah
Kabul (AFP) Jan 8, 2017 - Around 200 NATO troops, mainly Italians, have been deployed to the volatile western province of Farah, officials said Sunday, after Taliban insurgents in recent months attempted to overrun its capital city.

The announcement came after the Pentagon on Friday said it would deploy some 300 US Marines to southern Helmand province, where American forces engaged in heated combat until their mission ended in 2014.

The troops will mainly train and advise local forces, coalition officials say, but the deployments underscore how foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into Afghanistan's worsening conflict.

"At the request of the Farah provincial governor, Gen. John Nicholson (top US commander in Afghanistan) has authorized approximately 200 coalition members to support Afghan National Defense and Security Forces," NATO said in a statement.

"They will conduct their train, advise, assist mission for approximately one week on location."

A local government spokesman confirmed some 200 NATO troops, mainly Italians, had arrived in Farah city on Friday.

Last year, Taliban militants attempted to overrun several provincial capitals, from Kunduz and Baghlan in the north to Helmand in south and Farah in the west.

Afghan forces backed by coalition airstrikes pushed them back on many fronts, though the rebels managed to briefly seize Kunduz city in the north and breached parts of Lashkar Gah city in the south.

NATO officially ended its combat mission in December 2014, but US forces were granted greater powers in June to strike at the insurgents as President Barack Obama vowed a more aggressive campaign. The US still has some 8,400 troops in the country.

In early December General Nicholson said Kabul directly controls about 64 percent of the country's population of 30 million, down slightly from 68 percent earlier in 2016.

What was President Barack Obama's hardest decision during his two terms in office? A massive troop surge in Afghanistan, he said in an interview aired Sunday.

"Toughest decision was early in my presidency when I ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan," Obama, who leaves office in less than two weeks, told ABC's "This Week."

After a protracted debate inside the administration that pitted US military commanders against White House advisers, Obama announced the 30,000-trooop "surge" in December 2009.

The decision would bring the US contingent in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000 troops along with almost 50,000 allied troops.

"I think it was the right decision because the Taliban at that point had gotten a lot of momentum before I'd gotten into office, partly because we hadn't been paying attention as much as we needed to Afghanistan," Obama said in the interview taped Friday.

The president had hoped to withdraw most US military forces from Afghanistan by now, leaving behind just a small force.

But the United States still has some 8,400 military personnel in the country, and announced Friday it is sending some 300 Marines to Helmand province in the coming months.

Meanwhile in Iraq, more than 5,000 US soldiers are still on the ground providing critical support to the country's army, which is unable to man a war alone against the Islamic State group's extremist fighters.

Asked whether he found it disappointing that so many troops remain in both countries, Obama said the United States is "not going to get the kind of decisive, permanent victories in this fight against terrorism that we would get from fighting another country."

"But we don't have this huge footprint, we are less likely to be targeted as, you know, occupiers," he added about the reduced number of troops.

Even after decimating Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas and killing the jihadist group's leader Osama bin Laden, groups in the region still "have both the interest and the capacity if we don't maintain vigilance to strike against the United States," he said.


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