Gates: Afghanistan surge could require more than 30,000 troops

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress Thursday that the Afghanistan surge could require 3,000 more support troops in addition to the 30,000 troops President Obama announced this week.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan.

President Obama announced this week that he is deploying 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan between now and next summer. But Robert Gates, his Pentagon chief, said today that he needs the flexibility to deploy as many as 3,000 more troops on top of that.

During testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, Mr. Gates said he has to be able to give the battlefield commander what he needs and if that means deploying slightly more forces, he will do that.

“One of the things that I’ve tried to make clear consistently is that when you’re looking ahead, it is impossible to foresee every need,” Gates told a Senate panel reviewing the new Afghan strategy. Gates said he may need additional medical or intelligence personnel, engineers for road-clearing assistance, or other support troops.

“I have asked him for a modest amount of flexibility on that,” he said.

Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who is widely respected by both parties, is credited with brokering the new strategy between the military and the White House.

Echoes of Iraq

The potential need for more support troops is reminiscent of the surge of troops in Iraq in 2007. When the plan was first rolled out, military officials said the surge of five combat brigades would be about 21,000 troops. Ultimately, however, an additional 8,000 troops were deployed in support of combat forces for a total surge of about 30,000.

The revelation that the Pentagon may need to deploy even more forces raises concern among some lawmakers that the new strategy could lead to mission creep.

“You have no doubt that we will not be adding more troops to Afghanistan after this deployment outside of the 3,000, potentially, that you may have to add?” asked Sen. Ted Kaufman (D) of Delaware.

“That is the commitment that we have made to the president,” Gates responded.

Obama's war by the numbers

The number of forces already deployed under Obama tops the number he announced this week. Since Obama took office in January, 32,000 new forces have been deployed to Afghanistan. Those 32,000 troops include the 21,000 Obama deployed this spring and another 11,000 deployed under President Bush but which didn’t actually leave for Afghanistan until this year.

All told, Obama will have dramatically deepened the American commitment there, from 36,000 American forces in January to nearly 100,000 by next summer.

See also:

What Obama's Afghan war plan will cost you

Afghanistan war: Italy offers 1,000 troops to support Obama's surge


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