US Defense Sec. Endorses Big Expansion of Afghan Army

Source: Bakhtar News Agency / August 10, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has endorsed an Afghanistan government proposal to increase the size of the Afghan army by more than 50,000 troops. The new plan will cost well over $10 billion. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Thursday officials are currently looking at ways to finance it. Options would include seeking money from NATO allies. Morrell said the proposal would increase the size of the Afghan army from a planned 80,000 troops to roughly 122,000, plus 13,000 in support staff. In addition, Gates is poised to approve a plan that would give Army Gen. David McKiernan broader control over U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Currently, McKiernan commands the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, which includes about 15,000 U.S. forces.

Under the new proposal, McKiernan also would control the additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan who are training the Afghan army and police. There are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest since the war began. All told, the five-year plan could cost about $20 billion, according to The New York Times, which first reported the proposal on it, Web site late Thursday. Attacks from Taliban militants have spiked in recent months in Afghanistan, and commanders there have said repeatedly that they need additional U.S. forces. Commanders have asked for three additional combat brigades, and military officials hope that as troops levels are reduced in Iraq they will be able to shift forces to Afghanistan by early next year. May, June and July have been the deadliest three months for American forces in Afghanistan, pushing the U.S. death toll there to at least 500. The Pentagon long has been considering military commanders suggestions to better coordinate the mission in Afghanistan.


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