US defense chief Robert Gates has ordered an additional 2,800 aviation combat troops to Afghanistan next year in response to a request by the US military commander in the country, who has called for more than 20,000 additional troops.
AFP - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the deployment of a combat aviation brigade with some 2,800 troops to Afghanistan next year, a US military official said Friday.
Gates signed the order on Thursday in response to a request for more forces by General David McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"This is the beginning of the sourcing of the increased requirement that he (McKiernan) has asked for," the official said.
The aviation brigade, which is composed of a mix of attack and transport helicopters, numbers around 2,800 troops, he said.
It will deploy to Afghanistan after January from the United States, he said.
McKiernan has asked for more than 20,000 additional US troops to counter a rise in insurgent violence, including four combat brigades, the aviation brigade and other support forces.
Gates had previously redirected a combat brigade from Iraq to Afghanistan, which is supposed to arrive in January, and promised to deliver at least two more combat brigades after that.
The buildup would nearly double the US military presence in Afghanistan, raising it from 31,000 troops to over 50,000.
But in an interview aired Wednesday on PBS television, Gates indicated that there will be limits to the US military buildup because of fears that the larger the presence the greater the risk Afghans will turn against it as an occupation force.
"I think that we can meet the requirements of the commander in Afghanistan, our commander, General McKiernan, for the additional four brigade combat teams and a combat aviation team, without tipping the balance," he said.
"But ... after those forces are provided, I think we should think long and hard before we make any further significant troop contributions in Afghanistan," he said.
Meanwhile, US commanders in Iraq have warned that security gains there are reversible and that a large force is needed to ensure stability during a year in which three elections will take place.
General Raymond Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, is reported to have proposed withdrawing only two US combat brigades from Iraq in the first half of 2009.
There are currently 143,000 troops in Iraq, which has placed restraints on the availability for troops for Afghanistan.
Date created : 2008-12-20