The article about the deployment of additional support forces to Afghanistan, and an accompanying graphic, misstated the number of U.S. troops in that country at the end of January, based on Defense Department data that erroneously omitted Special Operations forces. The number should have been 36,000, not 34,400. Also, the article and one of its headlines incorrectly suggested that all deployments of support forces in 2009 were unannounced; news releases on the deployment of 21,000 additional troops announced this year included some broad estimates of support troops.
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Number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Overlooks Thousands of Support Troops
McChrystal's request, which the administration is considering, would be in addition to the troops Obama has approved. The request reportedly includes different options for adding troops for combat, training and support, with one option totaling about 40,000. The ability of the Army and Marine Corps to meet the request would depend on the type and number of troops McChrystal asked for, and when he wants them. A significant troop increase in Afghanistan early next year -- similar to the 2007 increase in Iraq -- would be difficult to sustain given the current size of the Army and Marine Corps and ongoing troop demands in Iraq, officials said.
The Army has 17 brigades deployed worldwide, including 11 in Iraq and five in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon data. The Marine Corps has one expeditionary brigade in Afghanistan. As of early this month, 65,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan and about 124,000 were in Iraq. At the height of the increase in Iraq, in late 2007 and early 2008, about 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and 26,000 were in Afghanistan.
Senior Army officials have made it clear that they want to avoid further wearying the force by imposing longer war zone tours or shortening time at home -- as happened during the Iraq troop increase when the Army extended one-year deployments to 15 months.
"I would hope we don't get there," Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, told reporters last week before meeting with Obama to provide his advice. Still, Casey said he could not promise that Army units would not face extended tours.
"Once you come off a 15-month [rotation requirement], you don't want to go right back on it," said Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, the Army's operations chief.
Army officials said that for planning purposes they are looking at various options for meeting the request for forces, including those that both maintain and break the Army's "red lines" requiring no more than 12 months deployed and no less than 12 months at home.
To give soldiers more time at home, the goal would be to deploy first those units that have been home the longest.
Other factors would affect the Army's ability to meet McChrystal's request. One variable involves the types of forces used, which differ between Afghanistan and Iraq.
So far, the Army has tried to deploy mostly light and airborne infantry to Afghanistan because of the country's rural, mountainous terrain and the nature of the insurgency there. To maintain continuity, the Army seeks to keep deploying such units because of their experience in Afghanistan. In July, the Army deployed the first Stryker brigade to Afghanistan, to provide greater mobility and firepower to the force, and more may be sent.
A significant troop increase, however, could require the Army to send mechanized and armored brigades to Afghanistan, although they would have to deploy with lighter vehicles.
Recent growth in U.S. ground forces, ordered by Gates in 2007, has helped make the troop buildup in Afghanistan possible by permanently expanding the Army and Marine Corps. This summer, Gates ordered another temporary increase of 22,000 soldiers to fill out gaps in Army units created by the growing number of wounded and other "non-deployable" troops.
Gates last month ordered to Afghanistan up to 3,000 support troops, and he could seek approval to send more to meet urgent needs. "I'm prepared to ask for the flexibility to send more enablers if we need to before the president makes a decision on -- on whether or not to send significant additional combat troops," he said, using the term "enablers" to refer to support troops as opposed to combat units.
Casey and other senior Army officials said the Army will keep pursuing its goal of giving active-duty soldiers two years at home between year-long deployments by 2011.
"An increase in dwell time is the single most important thing we can do to relieve stress on the force," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, using the military term for at-home rest.