Image: Protesters in Afghanistan
Nishanuddin Khan  /  AP
Afghanis protest against the U.S. forces after an early morning raid in Khost province, east of Kabul on Saturday.
updated 3/9/2009 6:24:34 PM ET 2009-03-09T22:24:34

Attacks on Afghan security forces increased nearly threefold last year as U.S. officials struggled to find enough military staff to train them, according to a report that details the challenge President Barack Obama faces to stabilize the troubled nation.

Obama recently announced a plan to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is weighing a request by ground commanders to send even more. Meanwhile, the president is conducting a sweeping strategy review intended to define the U.S. mission.

In a report released Monday, the Government Accountability Office says attacks on local forces in Afghanistan increased from 97 to 289 between October 2007 and October 2008. The national police force were most often targeted, losing an average of 56 officers each month in 2007 and 2008, GAO states.

Some gains reported
The GAO noted, however, that U.S. and Afghan officials have made gains in the country, including overhauling the structure of the police. More U.S. personnel would be needed to bolster existing programs that have already proved successful, the report stated.

For example, the Defense Department determined that about three-quarters of the police units trained through a particular program were capable of at least partially conducting operational missions with help. While such results are deemed promising in a poor country struggling to build up independent security forces, officials estimate that 1,500 more U.S. troops are needed to expand the program. Previously, officials had been able to redirect staff assigned to train Afghan army units, but demand for U.S. trainers has spiked as officials try to boost the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 individuals.

A separate U.S.-led program helped to trim a too-large officer corps in the Afghan National Police and boost pay for the rank-and-file.

Rep. John Tierney, who chairs a subcommittee that oversees national security issues, said the problems in Afghanistan have been identified for some time and need to be fixed now.

"The sooner we get the Afghans trained, the sooner our troops can come home," said Tierney, D-Mass.

Some lawmakers worry about buildup
Congress has been widely supportive of Obama's plan to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, although a few lawmakers have said they worry there's no end in sight to the U.S. commitment.

Anti-war groups on Monday circulated on Capitol Hill a letter to Obama denouncing his decision. So far, eight House members had signed the letter.

The 2001 congressional authorization "to use military force in Afghanistan allowed military action 'to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States,'" the letter states. "Continuing to fight a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan does not appear to us to be in keeping with these directives and an escalation may actually harm U.S. security."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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