WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will probably need to deploy more troops to Afghanistan despite almost doubling the size of its force there this year, the top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday.
The assessment by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the clearest signal yet that commanders will tell President Barack Obama in the coming weeks that they need extra forces to defeat Taliban insurgents.
“A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces. And, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance,” Mullen said.
Mullen did not say how many more forces would be required but he said he expected a request in the next couple of weeks from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Mullen stressed the United States faced a race against the clock to reverse its fortunes in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence has reached its highest level since the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
“I have a sense of urgency about this. I worry a great deal that the clock is moving very rapidly,” he said.
The United States currently has 62,000 troops in Afghanistan and that figure is expected to rise to 68,000 by the end of the year. There were around 32,000 U.S. troops in the country at the start of the year.
There are also some 38,000 troops from other nations -- mainly NATO allies -- in Afghanistan.
Mullen also called for patience with U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, as the American public and members of Congress -- particularly in Obama’s Democratic Party -- are becoming increasingly uneasy about the war.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans now oppose the war while 39 percent support it, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released on Monday.
“We can get there. We can accomplish the mission we’ve been assigned,” Mullen said.
“But we will need resources matched to the strategy, civilian expertise matched to military capabilities, and the continued support of the American people.”
Mullen also pushed back against a proposal from Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the committee chairman, that Washington should hold off from sending more combat troops and instead focus on training and expanding Afghan forces.
“Sending more trainers more quickly will give us a jump start -- but only that. Quality training takes time and patience,” he said.
“Private trust by the Afghans -- so vital to our purpose -- is not fostered in a public hurry,” Mullen said.
Senator John McCain, the committee’s senior Republican, urged the Obama administration to learn from the Iraq war -- where extra U.S. forces helped quell violence -- and quickly deploy more troops to Afghanistan.
“Every day we delay in implementing this strategy and increasing the number of troops there -- which we all know is vitally needed -- puts more and more young Americans who are already there ... in danger,” McCain said.
Editing by Eric Beech