By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
April 4, 2008 - The United States may send more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates confirmed today. President Bush said during the NATO summit conference that ended today that he expects the United States would make a significant additional contribution to the Afghanistan mission next year, Gates said.
But Gates backed off any specific commitment, saying the United States first wants to see how much support comes from other allies and how security efforts progress in 2008.
"I don't want to make significant long-term commitments of additional U.S. forces before giving the allies the opportunity to see what they're going to do," Gates said.
The French announced a battalion's worth of troops -- about 700 -- would take on part of the mission. Gates also said other nations made commitments for troops and special teams. A U.S. official at the summit said about a dozen or so countries have made commitments, but it would be a few weeks before final numbers could be tallied.
Gates said the 3,500 U.S. Marines deploying to Afghanistan this month through November will be able handle the 2008 fighting season, and that there is no reason to push sending more U.S. troops.
"Given explicit recognition by the alliance that this is a long-term project, I think waiting a while before committing additional forces of any consequence from the United States makes sense in a number of different areas," Gates said.
Also, because the mission there is an alliance undertaking, one of the considerations is how large a role the United States should play, as opposed to other allies being involved up front as well, he said.
The secretary did not say how many troops would be sent, but it likely will not be the 3,500 additional combat troops commanders on the ground have requested. He also did not say where the troops would be deployed, saying that decision likely would be made by the new International Security Assistance Force commander scheduled to be selected this summer.
Gates said progress in 2007 showed the Taliban they cannot win a conventional fight against NATO troops. The Taliban also now control no territory in the country, leading them to resort to terrorist tactics.
Successes in the country in 2008 will determine how many, if any, and what types of troops would be deployed, Gates said. Still, because of the importance of the mission there, Gates said, the United States is prepared to commit "substantial" troops. But he added that no specific plans to send additional troops are in the works.
Even with the war in Iraq extending troop deployments there and dwindling "dwell time" at home for troops between deployments, there is strong political and public support for sending additional troops to Afghanistan, Gates said.
The secretary said a "big piece" of any decision on troop levels in Afghanistan depends on whether deployments to Iraq can be shortened. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, is slated to report to Bush and Congress next week on progress and the way ahead in Iraq.