US reinforcements sent to hold Afghan gains

The United States plans to send 1,400 more Marines to Afghanistan to try to hold on to recent but fragile security gains, just months before a planned US drawdown, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

Violence is at its worst in Afghanistan with record casualties on all sides of the conflict. The insurgency is also spreading out of traditional strongholds in the south and east into once-peaceful areas in the north and west.

A review by President Barack Obama last month found US and Nato forces were making headway against the Taliban and al-Qa'ida but added that serious challenges remained. It said the Taliban's momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas. The review also said the United States was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops – now numbering about 100,000 in a total foreign force of 150,000 – from July 2011.

"The Marine battalion could start arriving on the ground as early as mid-January. The forces would mostly be deployed in the south, around Kandahar, where the US has concentrated troops over the past several months," The Wall Street Journal said, citing unnamed officials.

A boost in combat troop numbers, even if only temporary, could face opposition with members of President Obama's Democratic Party, the majority of whom are keen to see troops start coming home.