At least 20,000 more US troops in Afghanistan by mid-2009: Mullen


The United States plans to send between 20,000 and 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by summer 2009, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said here Saturday.

General David McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan, has asked for more than 20,000 extra US troops to counter a rise in insurgent violence, including four combat brigades, an aviation brigade and other support forces.

"The troops that were asked for in joint discussions with General McKiernan is what we're going need for the foreseeable future. So I don't see an increase any higher at this point than 20 to 30,000," Mullen told reporters.

Mullen said he hoped the extra troops could be deployed by mid-2009.

"We're looking to get them here in the spring, but certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest," he said.

The build up would nearly double the US military presence in Afghanistan, raising it from 31,000 troops to over 50,000.

On Friday, a US military official said Defence Secretary Robert Gates had already ordered the deployment of a combat aviation brigade with 2,800 troops to Afghanistan next year.

"This is the beginning of the sourcing of the increased requirement that he (McKiernan) has asked for," the official said.

The aviation brigade, composed of a mix of attack and transport helicopters, will deploy to Afghanistan after January from the United States, he said.

But in an interview aired Wednesday, Gates indicated there would be limits to the US military build up because of fears that the larger the presence, the greater the risk Afghans will turn against it as an occupation force.

"I think that we can meet the requirements of the commander in Afghanistan, our commander, General McKiernan, for the additional four brigade combat teams and a combat aviation team, without tipping the balance," he said.

"But ... after those forces are provided, I think we should think long and hard before we make any further significant troop contributions in Afghanistan," he said in the interview on PBS television.