By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 23, 2008 - Up to three additional brigade combat teams will likely be available for deployment to Afghanistan next spring and summer, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. Gates, who provided his assessment in response to lawmakers' questions during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, qualified his answer with a caveat, saying it's worth considering how heavy a military footprint the United States ought to have in Afghanistan.
"Are we better off channeling resources into building and expanding the size of the Afghan National Army as quickly as possible, as opposed to a much larger Western footprint?" he asked rhetorically.
Gates said the deployment of three brigades now would be impossible without significant force adjustments. "Without changing deployment patterns, without changing length of tours," he said, "we do not have the forces to send three additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan at this point."
Today's discussion of force levels came after pledges by President Bush and NATO leaders to boost the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan. The United States will deploy to Afghanistan a Marine battalion in November and an Army brigade combat team in January -- units that both had been slated for Iraq -- in accordance with the president's announcement after an April NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania.
Following that summit, allies and partners of NATO's International Security Assistance Force restated their commitment to Afghanistan, Gates said. France added 700 troops in eastern Afghanistan, Germany will seek to increase its troop ceiling from 3,500 to 4,500 this fall, and Poland is increasing its forces by 400 troops, he said.
"The number of coalition forces, including NATO troops, has increased from about 20,000 to nearly 31,000, and it appears that this trend will continue, as other allies such as the United Kingdom add more troops," the secretary said.
But Gates warned that additional forces alone will not solve the conflict in Afghanistan.
"Security is just one aspect of the campaign, alongside development and governance," he said. "We must maintain momentum, keep the international community engaged and develop the capacity of the Afghan government," he said.