US weighs thousands more troops for Afghan war
The Pentagon is considering sending up to 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year to make up for a shortfall in contributions from NATO.
The Pentagon is considering sending up to 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year to make up for a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
The increase would likely result in "the re-Americanization" of the war, one U.S. official said, according to the Times. U.S. forces would then account for two-thirds of foreign troops in Afghanistan, it said.
The report appeared a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States could consider taking over NATO's command in southern Afghanistan, where some NATO allies have been reluctant to provide combat forces.
Southern Afghanistan, site of the worst in a surge of Taliban violence, is now under NATO command. Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia all have forces in the region.
"This is a matter that's going to be looked at over probably some period of time primarily because it requires consultation with our allies," Gates told reporters when asked to comment on discussion at the Pentagon about the possibility of taking over command in southern Afghanistan.
"It certainly is worth taking a look at," he added during a visit to the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas.
REDUCTION IN IRAQ
Citing unnamed Bush administration officials, the Times said sending up to 7,000 additional troops would increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan to some 40,000, the highest level since the United States invaded the country in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The increase would require a reduction in troop levels in Iraq by at least a modest amount, and planning for it began in recent weeks, the newspaper said.
"There are simply going to be more American forces than we've ever had there," the Times quoted a senior official as saying.
The officials said the decision for more troops could be left to the next U.S. president, who will take office in January, and that few additional troops were expected in Afghanistan any time soon.
The United States has 34,000 troops in Afghanistan under two commands.
About 16,000 soldiers under U.S. European Command serve as part of a 47,000-strong NATO force. A further 18,000 U.S. troops are in the country separately under U.S. Central Command.
"We need to look also at some of our own command and control arrangements. For example, does it continue to make sense to have two combatant commands involved in one country?" the defense chief said.
"We're basically just trying to see how do you best provide for unity of command, how do you have the most effective operations possible in Afghanistan," he added.
The United States has begun to increase its troop presence in the south.
Canada threatened briefly to withdraw its 2,500 soldiers from southern Afghanistan unless more NATO troops were sent to the region. But it relented last month when France offered several hundred additional soldiers.
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