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Originally published Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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New arrivals see combat in Afghanistan

Close to 3,000 U.S. soldiers who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations in the field and already are seeing combat, the unit's spokesman said Monday.

The Associated Press

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Close to 3,000 U.S. soldiers who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations in the field and already are seeing combat, the unit's spokesman said Monday.

The new troops are the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements this year. The process began to take shape under President Bush but has been given impetus by President Obama's call for an increased focus on Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders have been contemplating sending up to 30,000 more soldiers to bolster the 33,000 already here, but the new administration is expected to initially approve only a portion of that amount. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president would decide soon.

The new unit — the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division — moved into Logar and Wardak provinces last month, and the soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., are now stationed in combat outposts throughout the provinces.

Insurgents have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterhozer, the brigade spokesman, said.

Several roadside bombs also have exploded next to the unit's MRAPs — mine-resistance patrol vehicles — but caused no casualties, he said.

Commanders are in the planning stages of larger-scale operations expected to be launched in the coming weeks.

Militant activity has spiked in Logar and Wardak over the past year as the resurgent Taliban have spread north toward Kabul from its traditional southern power base. Residents say insurgents roam wide swaths of Wardak, a mountainous province whose capital is about 35 miles from Kabul.

The region has been covered in snow recently, but Col. David B. Haight, commander of the 3rd Brigade, said last week that he expects contact with insurgents to increase soon.

Haight said he believes the increase of militant activity in the two provinces is not ideologically based but stems from poor Afghans being enticed into fighting by their need for money. Quoting the governor of Logar, the colonel called it an "economic war."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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