WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is nearing a decision to send more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year, but he may not announce it until after he consults with key allies and completes a trip to Asia later this month, administration and military officials have told McClatchy Newspapers.
As it now stands, the administration’s plan calls for sending three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Marine brigade, for a total of as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.
Another 7,000 troops would man and support a new division headquarters for the international force’s Regional Command South in Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace where the U.S. is due to take command in 2010. Some 4,000 additional U.S. trainers are likely to be sent as well, the officials said.
The first additional combat brigade probably would arrive in Afghanistan next March, the officials said, with the other three following at roughly three-month intervals, meaning that all the additional U.S. troops probably wouldn’t be deployed until the end of next year. Army brigades number 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers; a Marine brigade has about 8,000 troops.
The plan would fall well short of the 80,000 troops that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, suggested as a “low-risk option” that would offer the best chance to contain the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan.
It splits the difference between two other McChrystal options: a “high-risk” one that called for 20,000 additional troops and a “medium-risk” one that would add 40,000 to 45,000 troops.
The officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal administration planning, cautioned that Obama’s decision isn’t final, and won’t be until after administration officials discuss it with NATO allies at a Nov. 23 meeting of the alliance’s North Atlantic Council and its Military Committee.
Coalition forces now total 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 troops from other countries. The Army’s counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan’s population would require about 600,000 troops.
Although the administration privately is holding out little hope of persuading Canada or the Netherlands to abandon their plans to withdraw combat troops, much less getting additional allied troops, it wants to avoid creating the impression – at home and abroad – that the U.S. “is going it alone” in Afghanistan, said one military official.
Administration officials also want time to launch a public relations offensive to convince an increasingly skeptical public and a wary Democratic Congress that the war, now in its ninth year and inflicting rising casualties, is one of “necessity,” as Obama said earlier this year.