President Obama has decided to send an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize the situation there in preparation for new elections scheduled for Aug. 20.
A senior administration official said that the troops involved in the Afghan surge would include a brigade of Marines and an Army Striker brigade, as well as relevant support forces. Obama's decision to send the troops is effective Tuesday, said the official, who asked for anonymity when discussing details of the plan.
The official said that the president decided to send the new troops in response to a request from the American commander in the country, Gen. David McKiernan. The president agreed to the request in recognition that the security situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating," the official said, with Taliban forces rebuilding and the civilian government's rule becoming increasingly ineffective. One fear on the minds of U.S. officials was that Taliban resistance was only likely to increase as Afghanistan thaws out in the spring, so that the new troop surge would be well-timed to prepare for a possible increase in insurgent activity.
The administration official said that the decision to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan now comes as an internal review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan has just begun. The review is expected to last two months; the administration official said it was possible that after the review is completed, Obama could decide to send more troops beyond the new 17,000 contingent. During the election campaign, Obama talked about the possibility of sending up to 30,000 more American troops into Afghanistan.
The official said that a planned reduction in U.S. troop strength in Iraq would help enable the White House to increase force levels in Afghanistan, but declined to say whether any of the troops now being moved into Afghanistan would be going there directly from Iraq. The official added that Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and National Security Council official who played a prominent role advising the Obama transition team on Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been brought onto the White House staff to lead the team working on the Afghan policy review.