KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan welcomed on Wednesday a U.S. decision to send more troops but reiterated that the strengthening of Afghan security forces was the long-term answer to defeat militants.
President George W. Bush announced on Tuesday the United States would withdraw about 8,000 combat and support personnel from Iraq by February 2009.
He said a fresh Marine battalion and an Army combat brigade would go to Afghanistan by January, in response to soaring attacks by Islamist militants nearly seven years after the al Qaeda-backed Taliban were ousted.
“The government has a common stance on this: we need and welcome more foreign troops to tackle the war along with local forces,” said chief presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.
“In the long term, the strengthening of national entities, their training and equipping, is the solution,” he added.
The United States has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, about half the total number of foreign troops in the country.
U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban in late 2001 after they failed to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
But bin Laden and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are still at large and there is growing anger among Afghans and the government about civilian casualties caused by foreign forces, mostly in air strikes on suspected militants.
President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since shortly after the Taliban were ousted, said last month the presence of foreign troops had not led to the success of the war but had resulted to civilian casualties.
The Taliban said sending more troops would not solve Afghanistan’s ills.
“Sending troops to Afghanistan won’t solve problems but intensify fighting and provide more opportunities for Taliban fighters to attack their enemy,” a spokesman for the group, Zabihullah Mujahid, told the Pakistan-baed AIP news agency.
“We know the casualties of American forces will increase with the arrival of more troops. If they want a solution, all foreign troops need to leave Afghanistan,” he said.
Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fogarty