Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday that the Pentagon, which plans to send 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, was trying to get thousands of the additional combat forces into the country as soon as next summer, a sign of the seriousness of the threat facing the United States against the Taliban.
REUTERS/Scott Olson/Pool (AFGHANISTAN)
The soldiers were requested by Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. The first of them, about 3,500 to 4,000 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., are scheduled to arrive next month.
Mr. Gates said he hoped to deploy an additional two combat brigades in Afghanistan by the summer as part of an effort to combat growing violence and chaos in the country. He declined to name the specific units. Pentagon officials have said it would take 12 to 18 months overall to get all 20,000 American troops to Afghanistan.
The reinforcements will increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000 from the current level of 34,000. Mr. Gates said that the planned drawdown of some soldiers from Iraq in January had enabled the military to begin sending additional forces to Afghanistan.
By Elisabeth Bumiller
The New York Times
Mr. Gates made his remarks to reporters on his plane en route to Kandahar, where he arrived on Thursday to meet with General McKiernan. Later in the day, Mr. Gates is to answer questions from American forces in Kandahar at a town-hall-style meeting, his first experience with such a format.
President-elect Barack Obama vowed repeatedly during the campaign to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, which he declared the central front in the war against terrorism. His call for more troops here was consistent with the views of top commanders, although Mr. Gates, who is staying on as Mr. Obama’s Defense Secretary, made clear that the new administration’s military policy in Afghanistan is far from settled.
“But I have not heard anybody talking about forces beyond those that General McKiernan has already requested,” said Mr. Gates, who has been in recent conversations with Mr. Obama and in meetings with the president-elect’s transition team. “And I think that’s a discussion that the new administration will have as we look to the future.”