USA — Afghanistan

U.S. May Send More Troops to Afghanistan in 2009, Gates Says

By Fred W. Bak­er III
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

The Unit­ed States may send more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates con­firmed today.

Pres­i­dent Bush said dur­ing the NATO sum­mit con­fer­ence that end­ed today that he expects the Unit­ed States would make a sig­nif­i­cant addi­tion­al con­tri­bu­tion to the Afghanistan mis­sion next year, Gates said.

But Gates backed off any spe­cif­ic com­mit­ment, say­ing the Unit­ed States first wants to see how much sup­port comes from oth­er allies and how secu­ri­ty efforts progress in 2008.

“I don’t want to make sig­nif­i­cant long-term com­mit­ments of addi­tion­al U.S. forces before giv­ing the allies the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see what they’re going to do,” Gates said.

The French announced a battalion’s worth of troops — about 700 — would take on part of the mis­sion. Gates also said oth­er nations made com­mit­ments for troops and spe­cial teams. A U.S. offi­cial at the sum­mit said about a dozen or so coun­tries have made com­mit­ments, but it would be a few weeks before final num­bers could be tal­lied.

Gates said the 3,500 U.S. Marines deploy­ing to Afghanistan this month through Novem­ber will be able han­dle the 2008 fight­ing sea­son, and that there is no rea­son to push send­ing more U.S. troops.

“Giv­en explic­it recog­ni­tion by the alliance that this is a long-term project, I think wait­ing a while before com­mit­ting addi­tion­al forces of any con­se­quence from the Unit­ed States makes sense in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent areas,” Gates said.

Also, because the mis­sion there is an alliance under­tak­ing, one of the con­sid­er­a­tions is how large a role the Unit­ed States should play, as opposed to oth­er allies being involved up front as well, he said.

The sec­re­tary did not say how many troops would be sent, but it like­ly will not be the 3,500 addi­tion­al com­bat troops com­man­ders on the ground have request­ed. He also did not say where the troops would be deployed, say­ing that deci­sion like­ly would be made by the new Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force com­man­der sched­uled to be select­ed this sum­mer.

Gates said progress in 2007 showed the Tal­iban they can­not win a con­ven­tion­al fight against NATO troops. The Tal­iban also now con­trol no ter­ri­to­ry in the coun­try, lead­ing them to resort to ter­ror­ist tac­tics.

Suc­cess­es in the coun­try in 2008 will deter­mine how many, if any, and what types of troops would be deployed, Gates said. Still, because of the impor­tance of the mis­sion there, Gates said, the Unit­ed States is pre­pared to com­mit “sub­stan­tial” troops. But he added that no spe­cif­ic plans to send addi­tion­al troops are in the works.

Even with the war in Iraq extend­ing troop deploy­ments there and dwin­dling “dwell time” at home for troops between deploy­ments, there is strong polit­i­cal and pub­lic sup­port for send­ing addi­tion­al troops to Afghanistan, Gates said.

The sec­re­tary said a “big piece” of any deci­sion on troop lev­els in Afghanistan depends on whether deploy­ments to Iraq can be short­ened. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of Multi­na­tion­al Force Iraq, is slat­ed to report to Bush and Con­gress next week on progress and the way ahead in Iraq.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)