Clinton, Bayh urge Gates to up U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) are urging Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to send more troops to Afghanistan to stave off a likely Taliban offensive in the spring.

The two senators returned Monday from a four-day trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential contender, is among several other Democrats, including Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who have said that a troop "surge" should occur in Afghanistan rather than in Iraq, as President Bush has proposed.

Clinton called Afghanistan a success story, but said the United States and its NATO allies must make a concerted effort to quash a resurgence of Taliban fighters. According to Clinton, U.S. military officers in Afghanistan said during meetings that they would need two additional infantry battalions in the southern part of the country.

There have been reports that one battalion will move out of the eastern part of Afghanistan and deploy to Iraq under the president's new plan. But Clinton said military commanders would like that battalion to stay where it is or be replaced. According to Clinton and Bayh, military commanders in Afghanistan need about 2,300 more troops.

"The Taliban - and its al Qaeda partner - remains a pernicious enemy, and a failure to defeat it decisively in the spring risks undermining public confidence in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai," Bayh and Clinton wrote in a letter to Gates. "It would be tragic if we fail in Afghanistan because of an unwillingness to deploy a manageable size of additional troops to aid an important and willing ally during a time of true need."

The senators also highlighted the continued shortage in Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) capabilities, including Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, and the importance of helping a country that has proven to be a willing partner in the fight against terrorism.

"There are reasons to be hopeful about Afghanistan," Bayh said during a press conference yesterday. The country is unified politically, he added, but the spring and summer will be critical in the fight against the Taliban resurgence.

Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, also traveled with the senators. There is a "critical need for the injection of new forces in Afghanistan," he said during the press conference.