WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said any new U.S. forces President Barack Obama sends to Afghanistan could move into the country swiftly, despite logistical hassles that force almost all major deliveries of troops and supplies to go by air.
His wording suggested that, as expected, Obama will soon approve an increase in the already record U.S. force of 68,000 in Afghanistan. Months of deliberations over the flagging war are ending, with an announcement of a substantial troop increase expected in the next two weeks.
“I anticipate that as soon as the president makes his decision, we can probably begin flowing some forces pretty quickly after that,” Gates said.
Gates and Vice Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the coming troop infusion is a bigger logistical challenge than the Iraq “surge,” which added forces at the rate of roughly one brigade a month.
Afghanistan’s forbidding terrain, lack of roads and other infrastructure and the fact that forces and equipment are still tied up in Iraq are all complicating factors.
Gates and Mullen spoke at a Pentagon news conference.