ABC News’ Luis Martinez Reports: The latest Pentagon estimate for the number of additional troops needed to fight the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has risen to 25,000, ABC News has learned.
Since last fall, the Pentagon has been trying to meet a request from U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan for four additional combat brigades and their support troops, a request estimated to be about 20,000 troops. Top Pentagon officials have repeatedly said meeting the request could likely take 18 months and is greatly dependent on the continued reduction of US troops in Iraq that would free up units that could then flow into Afghanistan.
A senior defense official tells ABC News that military planners now estimate 25,000 more troops will be needed for Afghanistan. With 31,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, it appears that by mid-2010 the number of US troops there will almost double.
Four combat brigades and an aviation brigade would equate to about 16,000 to 18,000 troops, but the numbers are pushed higher by the additional numbers of support troops, known as enablers, that would be needed to assist the combat forces.
The official says adding the enablers had originally produced estimates ranging between 20,000 and 30,000 more troops arriving in Afghanistan over the next 18 months. However, a recent efficiency review concluded that the number would be about 25,000. This number is confirmed by another defense official who says that most of the additional troops will be based in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar Provinces.
In mid-January, the Third Brigade, 10th Mountain Division will be the first of the additional brigades to begin flowing into Afghanistan, but no other combat units have been ordered to go to Afghanistan.
Last week, Secretary Gates told reporters that he hopes an additional two brigades could be in Afghanistan by the summer of 2009. Reporters traveling with Gates this past weekend received a briefing from a Senior Military Official who said the brigades that would flow into Afghanistan had been identified by military planners, but no final decisions had been made on their deployments
Though the flow of troops into Afghanistan is greatly dependent on a reduction of US troop levels in Iraq, this official said, "They’re not all a one for one, its not as easy as just to say, the big pieces are off ramping from Iraqi options typically, but when you get into enablers they’re obviously fine-tuned for Afghanistan and not just sort of one for one with respect to Iraq."
The senior defense official agrees saying not every troop requirement in Afghanistan will be met by off-ramping units originally destined for Iraq. He says Army and Marine units not in the rotation cycle for Iraq could likely be heading to Afghanistan. One option being explored is looking at how National Guard units could be used to their full potential without breaking requirements for tour lengths and dwell time — the amount of time reserve units are allowed between overseas combat tours.