U.S. Military to Request More Troops for Afghanistan

Gen. David H. Petraeus, right, is shown on a remote monitor testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, right, is shown on a remote monitor testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gen. David H. Petraeus disclosed yesterday that American commanders have requested the deployment of an additional 10,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year, but he said the request awaits a final decision by President Obama this fall.

Petraeus acknowledged that the ratio of coalition and Afghan security forces to the population is projected through 2011 to be significantly lower than the 20 troops per 1,000 people prescribed by the Army counterinsurgency manual he helped write.

"If you assume there is an insurgency throughout the country . . . you need more forces," Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the Pentagon has not yet forwarded the troop request to the White House.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, testified that the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is based on a plan to concentrate forces in "the insurgency belt in the south and east," rather than throughout Afghanistan.

Obama "doesn't have to make a decision until the fall, so the troops would arrive, as planned, in 2010," she said.

The U.S. military has 38,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the number is projected to rise to 68,000 with deployments scheduled for this year. Those deployments include a 4,000-strong contingent of trainers from the 4th brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, 17,000 other combat troops, a 2,800-strong combat aviation brigade and thousands of support forces whose placement was not publicly announced, the Pentagon said.

If approved, the additional 10,000 troops -- including a combat brigade of about 4,000 troops and a division headquarters of about 2,000 -- would bring the total approved for next year to 78,000, officials say.

In a television interview Sunday, Obama voiced some skepticism about further troop increases, saying he had "resourced properly" the strategy. Asked how he would handle requests from commanders for more troops, he said: "What I will not do is to simply assume that more troops always result in an improved situation. . . . There may be a point of diminishing returns."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) questioned why Obama did not announce the additional 10,000 while unveiling the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. "To dribble out these decisions, I think, can create the impression of incrementalism," he said.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich) told reporters Tuesday that he thought the president was reluctant to make all the troop announcements at once. But Obama also did not want to be seen as turning down military commanders in wartime, so he agreed to grant all the requests for 2009, Levin said.

Flournoy said the administration also remains "open" to further expanding the size of the Afghan national army and police force, which plan to increase their ranks to 134,000 and 82,000, respectively, by 2011. On Tuesday, the top U.S. general in charge of training Afghan forces said at a Pentagon news conference that an initial proposal -- yet to be approved -- would double the ranks of the Afghan army and police beyond those numbers.

In sobering testimony, Petraeus warned that "reversing the downward security spiral" in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan would be possible only with a "sustained, substantial commitment" of military and civilian resources.

Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, called the situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region "increasingly dire" as al-Qaeda extremists and "pervasive and brutal" Taliban fighters intimidate local people.

Al-Qaeda and other extremists in Pakistan are "actively plotting against American interests, American allies and the American homeland," Flournoy said.

Asked about the threat of an attack on Washington by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, Petraeus said, "You have to take it seriously." Mehsud said Tuesday that his organization was planning an attack on Washington.

"We are doing what the intelligence circles call the deep dive to determine the possibility of that" based on the capabilities of Mehsud's organization, Petraeus said.

However, several senators questioned Pakistan's willingness to crack down on insurgent safe havens in its western tribal areas.

Petraeus said that although the Pakistani military has stepped up efforts in some areas, "considerable further work is required." That can be accelerated, he said, with U.S. aid in the form of a Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund to provide training, equipment and intelligence assets.

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