US Afghanistan forces see more Iraq-like attacks
WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) US forces are tracking a worrisome rise in Afghanistan of tactics used by insurgents in Iraq, but have no conclusive evidence that those methods have been brought by rebels coming from Iraq, a senior US commander said today.
With about 23,000 troops, the United States currently has its largest force in Afghanistan since its military involvement there began in October 2001, Pentagon figures showed.
''We are winning, but the war is not yet won,'' Army Lt. Gen.
Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a Pentagon briefing. American troops are still fighting Taliban and al Qaeda forces 4-1/2 years into the war.
Eikenberry said there has been an increase in violence in southern Afghanistan compared to a year ago, Taliban influence in some areas is growing, and narco-trafficking and corruption threaten the long-term viability of the US-backed government.
US forces are watching very carefully for linkages between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, amid the increase in the types of attacks more commonly seen in Iraq, he said.
''The enemy has changed its tactics over the past year,'' Eikenberry said. ''We've seen that the enemy has shifted to increasing use of improvised explosive devices. There's been an increase in suicide bombings.'' ''With regard to the tactics, techniques and procedures, we have not seen conclusive evidence that there has been any migration from Iraq to Afghanistan of foreign fighters that are bringing with them skills or capabilities,'' Eikenberry added.
Eikenberry noted a steady increase in the sophistication of the Afghan IEDs -- the type of roadside bombs that cause most US casualties in Iraq. That's not proof of a direct Iraq connection, he argued, saying some techniques can be gleaned, for example, from the Internet.
TROOP LEVELS Eikenberry declined to forecast US troop levels over the rest of the year or say how long he expected American forces to remain in Afghanistan in significant numbers. The US military had disclosed plans in December, when the force numbered 19,000, to cut its contingent to about 16,500 this spring, but the force remains larger.
Factors Eikenberry said will affect his recommendations on future troop levels include training of Afghan security forces and changes in the NATO role. The 9,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is due to expand into perilous southern Afghanistan in coming months.
US-led forces overthrew Afghanistan's Taliban leaders in late 2001 after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. He remains a fugitive.
Taliban forces have stepped up their campaign against foreign troops and the government in recent months with roadside and suicide bombings, attacks and assassinations.
Eikenberry cited an increase in violence in southern Afghanistan compared to last year, and a rise in recent months in the number of Taliban fighters in parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. The narcotics trade accounts for about a third of its economy and has corrupted many government officials and members of the security forces.
Eikenberry said US forces viewed fighting drugs as a ''law enforcement operation,'' not a military one, and American troops provide only support for counter-narcotics efforts such as intelligence and transportation.
REUTERS CH PM0015