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News | Oct. 14, 2009

DoD cites candor on Afghanistan troop levels

WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2009) – Defense Department officials have been straightforward about the number of U.S. troops flowing into Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday.

As deliberations on the way forward in Afghanistan continue at the White House, Morrell addressed media reports that implied the department was sending an extra 13,000 servicemembers to Afghanistan as enablers for added combat forces.

“There was no effort under way by the president, by the secretary, by anybody in this department to try to, in any way, mislead people about the forces that had been approved and were flowing into country,” Morrell said. “We’ve been absolutely candid about that from the get-go. It’s been 21,700 that were approved, and that’s what is flowing into country.”

That number includes enablers, Morrell said before going over the timeline for the personnel plus-up.

President Barack Obama on Feb. 17 signed off on sending 17,700 additional forces to Afghanistan. At the time, 38,089 Americans were in the country. Another 6,059 servicemembers – approved by President George W. Bush – also were flowing into Afghanistan at the time. “That brings us to roughly 44,000 forces,” Morrell said.

On March 27, Obama increased the number of forces going to Afghanistan, adding a brigade to train the Afghan security forces bringing the number of troops he had approved to 21,000.

About 66,000 American servicemembers are now in Afghanistan, and the number will reach 68,000 at the end of the year. “There are no additional forces that have been surreptitiously deployed to Afghanistan in support of the mission there,” Morrell said.

The British government announced today that they will add 500 more forces to Afghanistan. This will bring their contribution to the effort in the country to 9,500, the second-most after the United States. “We welcome that contribution, as we do all contributions from our alliance partners,” Morrell said.

Morrell stressed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expects to be able to maintain current “dwell time” intervals at home stations between deployments for servicemembers deploying to Afghanistan. “The secretary is the one who had to make the extraordinarily difficult decision of extending tour lengths when the situation was particularly bad in Iraq and required a surge of forces,” he said. “He bit the bullet and made the decision to extend tour lengths in Iraq to 15 months.”

In August, the last soldiers affected by this extension came home. Now, no unit in U.S. Central Command is deploying for longer than 12 months, the press secretary said.

“That is something [Gates] very much wants to hold to if at all possible,” Morrell said. “I see no indication at this point that that would have to be adjusted. But I think we always reserve the right to make adjustments if that's what national security dictates.”

The secretary has said he wants to maintain predictability for servicemembers and their families.