Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan said there has been a significant increase in foreign fighters coming in from neighboring Pakistan this year - including Chechens, Uzbeks, Saudis and Europeans. And he said he needs the more than 10,000 additional forces he has requested, in part, to increase his military campaigns in the south and east where violence has escalated.
"The additional military capabilities that have been asked for are needed as quickly as possible," he said, adding that he is hoping to get units that will be able to both fight the insurgents and serve as trainers for the Afghan Army and police.
McKiernan, who is scheduled to meet with President Bush late Wednesday, said he was encouraged by recent Pakistani military operations against insurgents waging cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. But he also said that it is too soon to tell how effective they have been.
He also endorsed the recent suggestion by Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to try to create a joint force of Afghan, Pakistani and U.S. forces to secure what is a porous, mountainous, ungoverned border region.
"I think in the future I would certainly support the idea of combined patrolling along that border," said McKiernan. If it's handled the right way, he said he believes the Pakistanis would go along with the plan.
"There are mutual border security concerns that both the Afghans and the Pakistanis have," he said. "So the more we can work together to approach those concerns, the better off we all are."
Officials have said that violence in Afghanistan is up about 30 percent this year compared with 2007. The Taliban and associated militant groups like the terrorist network al-Qaida have steadily stepped up attacks in the last several years and more U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan already this year than in any year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
"We're in a very tough fight," McKiernan said. "The idea that it might get worse before it gets better is certainly a possibility."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that he may be able to send thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan starting next spring. McKiernan said he expects that some of his more urgent needs for additional helicopters and surveillance capabilities will be met in the next few months.
The general's assessment coincides with a fresh report on the situation by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed dismay that attacks against aid workers have increased in 2008.
A report released by his office Tuesday said that at least 30 aid workers have been killed and 92 abducted so far this year. At least 22 World Food Program convoys have been attacked, as have 59 schools.
"Regardless of the progress made in certain areas, my overall impression is that the situation in the country has deteriorated over the past six months," Ban said in the report. "Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the negative trend can be reversed."
Saying that security has "deteriorated markedly," the report noted that the number of U.N.-recorded security-related incidents rose to 983 in August - the highest monthly total since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001. The report did not define a security incident, but typically it refers to bombings, shootings and other violent acts.