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Washington Post

WASHINGTON - The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday that thousands more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to regain the initiative against a worsening Taliban insurgency and that a new program is under way to offer "incentives" to persuade Taliban fighters to switch sides.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 2,000 and 4,000 military trainers from the United States and its NATO partners will be required to accelerate and expand the growth of the Afghan army to 250,000 troops and increase the size of the Afghan police force in coming years.

Mullen also strongly suggested that more U.S. combat troops will be required to provide security in the short term while the Afghan forces are being developed.

"A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably needs more forces," Mullen said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling the effort both "manpower- and time-intensive."

Part of the strategy will be a new initiative to offer "incentives" - presumably cash - to lure Taliban fighters away from the insurgency, Mullen said. The plan is similar to one the U.S. military conducted in Iraq, where it paid former Sunni insurgents and tribesmen to stop attacking U.S.-led coalition troops and instead to join a local security program now called the "sons of Iraq."

A lack of resources and focus has allowed Taliban insurgents to go on the offensive and put the United States on "defense," Mullen said at the hearing, adding that he worries Afghanistan could become "a failed state."

The Senate hearing came as the political debate heightens over the Afghanistan war and President Barack Obama must decide whether to commit more U.S. troops.

The battle lines of the debate were clearly drawn, with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee chairman, arguing strenuously against the deployment of any more U.S. combat forces, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican member, saying that a delay would "repeat the nearly catastrophic mistakes" before the troop surge in Iraq.

recount of some votes ordered

Ballots from about 10 percent of Afghanistan's polling stations need recounting because of suspicions of fraud, the chief election watchdog said Tuesday, increasing the chances that President Hamid Karzai could face a runoff. Afghanistan's second direct presidential vote, a critical test of the West's effort to foster democracy in the country, has been tainted by allegations of massive fraud, and the final results, which were to be announced Thursday, may now be weeks away.

Obama honors soldier's selfless sacrifice

President Barack Obama is giving his first Medal of Honor to a soldier who sacrificed his life saving a comrade in Afghanistan. Obama plans to award the honor to Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti during a ceremony at the White House on Thursday. The White House says Monti showed selfless service and sacrifice during combat. Monti was a native of Raynham, Mass. He previously was awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, five Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals and three National Defense Service Medals.

Father was falsely told son was killed

U.S. military officials say they're investigating why an upstate New York man was told his son had been killed in Afghanistan when the soldier was alive and well. Ray Jasper of Niagara Falls says he was camping Sunday when he received a call on his cell phone from a woman who said she was a military liaison. He says the woman told him his son, Staff Sgt. Jesse Jasper, was killed in action Saturday. The father says he later called military officials to get details of his son's death and was told that his son is alive. Jasper says the officials couldn't explain the earlier call.

Times wires