A cut in U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan planned by President Barack Obama next year would hurt peace efforts and security, the head of an insurgent-troubled Afghan province said today.
Speaking on a visit to Brussels, the governor of Khost province, Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, said international troops were needed until peace and security were assured.
"Until we have met our goals, any withdrawal from Afghanistan...is affecting security," he said in an interview.
"Reducing the number of the troops will be disturbing for the peace process and security," Naeemi said when asked about Obama's plans to start cutting U.S. troop numbers.
In December, Obama ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, taking international troop numbers to nearly 150,000 today, but he also said they would start coming home in July 2011.
With foreign casualties at their highest level in nine years of war, pressure is mounting on other governments to cut their troop contributions. There is also a growing sense that talks with the Taliban may be the only route to peace.
Obama's approach calls for stepped-up training of Afghan forces to take over responsibility from foreign troops, but the U.S. general behind this effort said last week that targets would not be met unless allies sent more instructors.
Naeemi called President Hamid Karzai's establishment of a 60-member peace council a very good step that could help encourage Taliban members to lay down their arms.
"I think it can work; if not for all, at least for some percentage (of insurgents) that can be acceptable," he said. "In my province, we have hope."
The Taliban, however, have rejected the peace council as "failed and impractical" and say they will not enter any dialogue with the government until foreign forces leave.
Some analysts say any cuts in the foreign force will simply encourage the insurgents to fight on. Naeemi dismissed a growing view that the insurgents have the initiative in the war.
"I don't think they can claim that they are winning the war: to destroy bridges schools and roads, to kill innocent people, I don't think that's a victory for them," he said.
While welcoming peace efforts, Naeemi said it was important to keep targeting militant leaders militarily, even though some analysts say this could be counter-productive to any negotiations and make the insurgents more intransigent.
Naeemi, whose province borders Pakistan, called on Pakistan to do more to assist in the fight against the Taliban.
"They are our neighbouring country and also their citizens are victims of terrorism," he said. "So when it comes to the terrorism issue they should be more active than anyone else...we look forward to more support from Pakistan."