U.S. Might Double Afghanistan Force - Mullen Sees Up to 30,000 More Troops

By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press
Sunday, December 21, 2008

KABUL, Dec. 20 -- The top U.S. military officer said Saturday that the Pentagon could double the number of American forces in Afghanistan by summer to 60,000 -- the largest estimate of potential reinforcements ever publicly suggested.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 there.

This year has been the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaeda 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.

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 civil affairs support troops.

"So some 20,000 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now," he said at 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."

Overall, more than 60,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan. Mullen said any increased U.S. deployment would be directly tied to force levels in Iraq, where commanders are drawing down troops.

"The Taliban and extremists are more sophisticated and effective," Mullen said. "They haven't won any battles but they certainly have increased the level of violence, and we're very focused on that. That's why the additional forces are so important, to be able to provide security for the Afghan people so these other areas can be developed."

U.S. officials already have plans to send four ground brigades and an aviation brigade to Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has approved the deployment of the aviation brigade, defense officials said. And 10th Mountain Division forces will deploy next month to two provinces that neighbor Kabul -- Wardak and Logar, which have seen an influx of insurgents over the past year.

Insurgents in Pakistan launched rockets at two trucks returning from delivering fuel to Western forces in Afghanistan, killing three people, an official said Saturday. It was the latest in a string of attacks targeting a supply route critical to the U.S. fight against the Taliban.

U.S. and NATO forces in landlocked Afghanistan transport up to 75 percent of their supplies through Pakistan, and any serious disruption of that pipeline could hamper operations.

American officials have said the increase in attacks has not affected their ability to operate in Afghanistan but have acknowledged they are looking for ways to improve security along the route and are investigating alternative ways to deliver supplies.

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