Michael Tucker, the deputy commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, said in a Pentagon briefing Friday that the military is building housing for an additional 20,000 troops in Afghanistan to help fight a growing wave of insurgent violence.
The troops were requested by Gen. David McKiernan, who is the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In a conversation with NPR's Melissa Block, McKiernan said that defeating the threat in the region is of "vital national security interest" to the U.S.
There are three reasons the violence has surged, according to McKiernan. The Taliban and other insurgents have "adapted their tactics" and are ambushing "softer targets" such as political headquarters and convoys, he says. The tribal areas in Pakistan have deteriorated, allowing for militant sanctuaries on both sides of the border. And the U.S. and the Afghan National Security Forces have more outposts throughout Afghanistan, which means the troops come into more contact with insurgent or criminal groups, McKiernan says.
"So when you combine all three of those, you have incremental reports of violent activities, a lot of it is criminal related, it creates a feeling of insecurity, which inhibits progress of stability in Afghanistan," he says.
McKiernan also said the U.S. is monitoring relations between Pakistan and India in the aftermath of the bombings in Mumbai on Nov. 25.
"I am cautiously optimistic that there is an increasing will and capacity in Pakistan to deal with the militant sanctuary areas and the tribal areas," McKiernan said. "I think there is a growing recognition that the insurgency exists on both sides of the border, and it's a regional insurgency and it affects not only the future of Afghanistan, but the future of the state of Pakistan."
McKiernan also said it's important for him to continue to explain to the American population why it's important to defeat the threat in the region.
"There's certainly a continuous need to communicate to each of our troop-contributing countries, why we're here, what it's going to take, the fact that it's not a short, easy proposition," he said. "It's going to take an extended commitment."
McKiernan said the battle in Afghanistan will take a long time because of environmental reasons, including the country's history of war, its exceedingly low literacy rate and its few natural resources.
"This is a very tough campaign that's going to take a while — and it's going to take resources and commitment on the part of the international community to win," he says.