“I think everybody’s committed to doing this as quickly and responsibly as possible,” Morrell told Pentagon reporters. “In the coming days, the secretary hopes to present the president with his recommendation.”
Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, has asked his bosses for a 30,000-troop increase, which effectively would double the U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan.
Gates and other senior civilian and military officials at the Pentagon have said they believe it is necessary to send more troops to Afghanistan to suppress resurgent Taliban fighters and al-Qaida terrorists.
The White House is reviewing U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morrell said. Any U.S. troop increase for Afghanistan, he said, needs the approval of the new commander in chief.
Increased violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan threatens global security and constitutes “the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism,” Obama said during a Jan. 22 visit to the State Department.
Obama also is studying several options presented to him by Pentagon officials for a drawdown of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
During his Jan. 27 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said if Obama approves the Afghanistan troop increase, that most of those extra forces could be provided to McKiernan by midsummer.
Gates is mindful of the balancing of risk regarding U.S. troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morrell said, noting that the Iraq drawdown affects the numbers of additional troops available for deployment to Afghanistan.
Additionally, any increase of combat troops for Afghanistan, Morrell said, would require additional support forces as well.
“It’s a delicate plus-up, because you’ve got to do it commensurate to the infrastructure that exists” in austere Afghanistan, Morrell said.