Afghanistan welcomes more troops from US

( dpa ) - Afghanistan on Thursday welcomed what it said was a decision by the United States to send additional troops to the war-shattered country, calling the move "an obvious sign of support."

A press release from the Afghan Defence Ministry did not say how many additional US troops would be deployed, but media reports Wednesday from Washington said the United States was considering sending an extra 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan, responding to a NATO request for a stronger force to combat a resurgent Taliban.

However, Lieutenant Colonel Almarah Belk, a Pentagon spokeswoman, denied that a decision was imminent. She acknowledged that NATO had identified a "shortfall" in troops in Afghanistan - especially to help train local forces - but said the ongoing war in Iraq had so far prevented additional US forces from being deployed elsewhere.

"I can tell you for sure ... no decision is even pending," Belk said.

In the Afghan press release, General Zahir Azimi, Defence Ministry spokesman, said, "The Afghan Defence Ministry welcomes the decision by the United States of America to deploy more troops to Afghanistan in the coming years."

"We regard this decision as an obvious sign of support by the international community and specially the United States of America to Afghanistan," Azimi said.

The general added, however, that the long-term solution for Afghanistan's security was strengthening its own Army.

The broadcaster CNN, citing Pentagon sources, reported that the US troop buildup could begin in the coming weeks as Defence Secretary Robert Gates was preparing to give the go-ahead.

There are currently nearly 42,000 troops under NATO's command in Afghanistan, including 15,000 from the United States. More than 10,000 additional US troops operate under US military command, rooting out strongholds of the al-Qaeda terrorist group.

While Taliban militants have continued to launch attacks on coalition forces through the winter, military officials are especially concerned about the possibility of a spring offensive.

More than 6,300 people were killed in 2007 in the conflict, the bloodiest year since a US-led invasion ousted the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime six years ago in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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