US army considers 20,000 more troops for Afghanistan

* Commanders demand chopper units, intelligence teams, engineers, medical teams
* Pentagon says troops not ‘sitting at ready’

Daily Times, Oct 31, 2008

WASHINGTON: United States military planners now think they might need twice the number of extra troops initially believed needed to help fight the war in Afghanistan.

The build up in the increasingly violent campaign could amount to more than 20,000 troops rather than the originally planned 10,000, two senior defence officials said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The latest calculations reflect growing requests from field commanders in recent weeks for aviation units, engineers and other skills to support the fighting units, they said.

Officials had been saying for months that they needed more people to train Afghan security forces and two more combat brigades – a total of around 10,000 people.

Commanders later increased that to the trainers and three combat brigades — or some 15,000, when extra support is included.

Support: Now, the planners say that the number may have to grow yet again by another 5,000 to 10,000 support troops. They said they would need helicopter units, intelligence teams, engineers to build more bases, medical teams and others to support the fight.

In Afghanistan, it is far more difficult for troops to operate in the undeveloped nation, which lacks roads, runways and facilities to support troops, and commanders in Afghanistan do not consider this a short-term surge in troops, but rather the number that will be needed over a longer period, an official said.

It is unclear whether the number will win approval. If a force that large is approved, it’s also unclear where the Pentagon would get that many extra troops for the Afghan campaign – and how quickly they could be sent.

The Defence Department has already approved the deployment of about 4,000 people — one additional Marine combat battalion and one army brigade to be sent by January..

The military shortfall in Afghanistan has been a common complaint from commanders, although, the number has grown from fewer than 21,000 two years ago to more than 31,000 today.

Pentagon: At a Defence Department press conference later on Wednesday, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell did not offer a number.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have them all sitting at the ready, waiting just for the beck and call and we can send them overnight,” Morrell said, adding officials must weigh needs in Afghanistan with global needs.

AP

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