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US on track with Afghan deployments

THE Pentagon is still on track to send three additional combat units to Afghanistan by midsummer, despite a debate within the Obama administration about the timing of the deployment.

"That is still the goal," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Friday.

President Obama had been widely expected to approve as early as this week a plan to deploy up to 17,000 combat troops as part of an anticipated build-up that could nearly double the US force in Afghanistan to about 60,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has spoken about sending two additional combat units by the end of spring and a third by midsummer. The additional forces are needed to combat an intensifying insurgency by the Taliban and other militant groups. There are currently 36,000 US troops in Afghanistan, including 17,000 who operate as part of a 50,000-strong NATO deployment.

But officials said the plan for Afghanistan was still being debated in the White House National Security Council, where it has come under scrutiny at a time when the Obama administration is also considering withdrawing forces from Iraq where there are 144,000 US troops.

Pentagon officials say the expected buildup in Afghanistan would have to be coordinated with the drawdown of forces from Iraq because of the strains both conflicts have placed on US military structure.

Whitman said US military planners could deploy forces to Afghanistan without drawing down in Iraq but added that could require reducing the time at home between combat missions, which the Pentagon wants to avoid.

"We need to get troops to Afghanistan soon because the spring fighting season begins in April," said an official.


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