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U.S., NATO REFOCUS ON TRAINING AFGHANS

They seek to raise the nation's stake and gainan anti-Taliban foothold to avoid deployments.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military and NATO are launching a major overhaul of the way they recruit, train and equip Afghanistan's security forces, seeking to reverse a trend in which the alliance failed for years to invest adequately in Afghan troops and police while the Taliban gained strength, senior U.S. officials told the Washington Post.

The reorganization comes in advance of expected recommendations by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, to expand Afghan forces and their training.

The recommendations, and the additional U.S. and NATO troops they would require, are among the few aspects of President Barack Obama's Afghan strategy that are likely to have broad bipartisan support in Congress. Democrats, in particular, have expressed anxiety over reports that McChrystal may request more combat troops for the increasingly unpopular war.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., called Friday for the Afghan force to "increase and accelerate dramatically," with a goal of 240,000 Afghan soldiers by 2012. The current target is 134,000 by the end of 2011.

Early this year, Obama approved the deployment of 21,000 additional American troops - including 4,000 trainers - to Afghanistan, which will bring the total U.S. deployment to 68,000 by the end of 2009.

Under the reorganization, NATO this month will establish a command for recruitment and training. The goal is to "bring more coherence" to NATO's efforts, a senior official told the Washington Post, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

In another major change, all the U.S. and allied mentoring and training teams embedded with Afghan military and police units will be placed next month under a new operational command, headed by McChrystal's deputy, the officials said.

ROADSIDE BOMBS: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan by sending counterexplosives units to help fight the growing threat of roadside bombs, defense officials told the Los Angeles Times. They would not say how many troops might be sent as part of the units, which would be separate from any formal request for new forces.

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Taliban spokesman and 4 others held

Pakistan arrested the spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley and four other senior commanders, the military said Friday, in the latest of several victories against militants in the country's northwestern region close to Afghanistan. The army announced the arrests on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Drawing attention to that fact, it released photos of the two highest-ranking detainees - spokesman Muslim Khan and commander Mahmood Khan - with the date printed in bold underneath.

Associated Press

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