The top U.S. military officer said Saturday that the Pentagon could double the number of American forces in Afghanistan by next summer to 60,000 — the largest estimate of potential reinforcements ever publicly suggested.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 already there.
This year has been the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Suicide attacks and roadside bombs have become more dangerous, and Taliban fighters have infiltrated wide swaths of countryside and now roam in provinces on Kabul’s doorstep.
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seen, during a press conference at a U.S base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008. The top U.S. military officer says that up to 30,000 extra American troops could be sent to Afghanistan next year.(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
U.S. commanders have long requested an additional 20,000 troops to aid Canadian and British forces in two provinces just outside Kabul and in the south. But the high end of Mullen’s range is the largest number any top U.S. military official has said could be sent to Afghanistan.
Mullen said that increase would include combat forces but also aviation, medical and civilian affairs support troops.
“So some 20,000 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now,” he told a news conference at a U.S. base in Kabul. “We certainly have enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven’t had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear.”
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the deployment of an additional combat aviation brigade to Afghanistan early next year, officials have said.
The decision to send about 2,800 soldiers, equipped with both attack and transport helicopters, comes as part of an effort to counter the insurgency.
Three or four combat brigades are to follow in late spring or early summer.
The top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen David McKiernan, has requested at least 20,000 extra troops.
There are currently 31,000 US troops in the country, 14,000 of whom are part of the 51,000-strong Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
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