KABUL (Reuters) - NATO forces in Afghanistan are confident member states will provide thousands of extra troops as temporary reinforcements for presidential elections in August, the deputy commander of NATO-led forces said on Monday.
U.S. President Barack Obama has approved the deployment of some 17,000 extra U.S. troops this year to add to the nearly 70,000 military personnel already in Afghanistan but commanders have also requested temporary reinforcements to secure the August 20 polls.
We have asked for more helicopters and we've asked for more infantry-type units, Lieutenant General Jim Dutton told reporters. We are confident that we will get what we asked for.
Washington's European NATO allies have been slow to come up with large numbers of extra troops for Afghanistan, either because their forces are already nearly stretched to the limit, or because of domestic opposition to the war.
But it is easier for nations to send troops on a short-term basis, rather than making a long-term commitment which would mean regularly rotating units through the country, Dutton said.
We are probably talking thousands, but not many thousands, he said when asked about the numbers requested. This isn't a vast increase, this is to provide some extra mobile forces available on one day, maybe two days, to provide security.
A relatively peaceful election would be a milestone for Afghanistan and Western nations whose troops are struggling to fight off a Taliban insurgency and whose taxpayers are bankrolling the country.
But election security will be primarily the job of the Afghan army and police, supported by troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) who would provide air assets and intelligence, but remain as invisible as possible, Dutton said.
We don't really want to see ISAF troops outside polling stations, he said.
Violence is expected to rise sharply in Afghanistan this year once the traditional fighting season returns in the Spring and could surpass last year's record levels as the extra troops move into areas where foreign soldiers seldom patrolled before.
Most of the 17,000 U.S. troops due to arrive in Afghanistan in the next several months will be sent to the south of the country. The reinforcements will consist of a brigade of Marines, an armored infantry brigade and a combat aviation brigade.
The aviation brigade will bring with it 120 helicopters, much needed in the south where mainly British, Canadian and Dutch forces have suffered casualties from suicide and roadside bombs due to shortages of air transport.
ISAF is locked in a stalemate with the Taliban in the south with some areas changing hands back and forth several times as British and Canadian forces especially have not had enough troops to hold on to territory once they have cleared out insurgents.
As foreign troops pull out, the Taliban move back in. Each time another offensive is launched to retake an area, the civilian population inevitably suffer.
That's why, sometimes at least, we weren't particularly welcome, said Dutton.
The commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, U.S. General David McKiernan has now forbidden commanders to launch operations to clear an area unless they can hold on to it afterwards.
A regional commander, a task force commander, can't do an operation nowadays unless he can demonstrate how he is going to hold once he has cleared. It's an absolute requirement, Dutton said.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)