(ARMY TIMES) About 3,000 additional troops are headed to Afghanistan — but not as part of any new request from the top U.S. commander there, a senior defense official said Monday.
The troops are what the military calls “combat enablers” — noncombat troops who specialize in areas such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; explosives ordnance disposal; medical and mental health; and personnel administration. They will deploy in team-sized elements as opposed to larger units, according to the official, who asked not to be identified.
About 1,000 such troops also will deploy to Iraq, the official said, adding that both groups are being sent in response to existing requests by the theater commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The so-called “request for forces” was approved two weeks ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the official said.
That request has been forwarded to U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., which is now identifying the troops to be deployed and the services from which they’ll be drawn.
As such, no deployment orders have been signed and no time frame for the deployments has yet been finalized, the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell confirmed that Gates has not signed any such orders but said that nothing has yet been finalized with regard to sending more troops to either theater.
“He’s looking at seeing how he can get more counter-IED capabilities over to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Morrell said. “He wants to figure out how he can provide them [more] route clearance, explosive ordnance disposal teams, medics, medevac capabilities, intelligence assets, things of that nature. But nothing has been determined yet about how to do this.”
Many in Washington expect a near-term request for more troops out of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who last week delivered to the Pentagon his initial assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, widely acknowledged to be deteriorating.
This new group of deployments, however, is “not at all” tied to McChrystal’s assessment, said the senior official, who confirmed that McChrystal has not yet made any request for additional troops.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama approved the deployment of an additional 21,000 troops — 3,500 of them trainers being deployed this month. Once those are in place, U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan will be roughly 65,500.
The fresh enablers would bring the U.S. total in Afghanistan to slightly more than 68,000, the total authorized by Obama to date. Troop strength by year’s end will be slightly more than double the total in country at the end of 2008.
Army Gen. David McKiernan, who the Pentagon unexpectedly replaced with McChrystal this past spring, had told Obama that he wanted an additional 10,000 troops beyond that total. That decision was postponed until later in the year.
In June, according to The Associated Press, Gates told an Army audience at Fort Drum, N.Y., “I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot.”
Morrell said that any addition of enablers might not add to the total now in Afghanistan.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean we add at all to the total number of forces that are on the ground in Afghanistan,” Morrell said. “because simultaneous to this internal effort to find those additional capabilities, there are efforts under way such as those by General McChrystal in terms of looking at the kinds of forces he has in Afghanistan as it is now that he feels as though he may not need.
“So if there are duplicative forces that have specialties that he doesn’t find particularly worthwhile at this particular point, you can rotate those forces,” Morrell said.