4,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Obama will deploy as many as 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, beyond the 17,000 he authorized last month, as trainers and advisers to the Afghan Army, according to a senior Pentagon official who has seen the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will unveil today.

Obama briefed House and Senate leaders at the White House Thursday afternoon on the strategy, while special envoy Richard Holbrooke outlined the plan to other lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The president also telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, President Asif Ali Zardari.

The result of military, intelligence and diplomat reviews that began the day Obama took office, the strategy is expected to include major increases in U.S. military and development assistance to both countries. Hundreds of additional civilian officials will be sent to Afghanistan, where they will concentrate on the legal system, agriculture and improved governance.

The new plan is designed to reverse a sharp deterioration in the eight-year Afghan war, which last year saw increased levels of Taliban attacks and U.S. and NATO casualties. Although Obama will ask NATO governments to increase their military, civil and financial commitments to Afghanistan at an alliance summit next week, the strategy will mark an overall expansion of U.S. dominance of the war.

“The situation in Afghanistan is increasingly difficult, and time is of the essence,” Lt. Gen Karl Eikenberry, Obama’s nominee as ambassador to Afghanistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing Thursday morning. “There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice.”

While additional U.S. combat troops will enhance the ability of the multinational coalition force to hold ground in southern Afghanistan’s Taliban strongholds, increased training and equipping of Afghan security forces is the ultimate exit strategy for the United States and NATO, administration officials said.

Afghanistan’s defense minister has said he plans to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2011, but coalition forces until now have been unable to provide trainers and mentors, equipment and transport for the existing Afghan force.

The extra 4,000 troops, expected to deploy in June, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the U.S. Army’s vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10 to 14 member advisory teams, the Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.

The total of 21,000 new troops will bring the total U.S. component of the force to about 60,000.

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