WASHINGTON– Pentagon planners are studying ways to get more U.S. troops to Afghanistan quickly.

“We’re constantly reviewing troop needs, troop levels,” President Bush said during a July 2 news conference. “We’re halfway through 2008; as I said, we’re going to increase troops by 2009.”

U.S. and international leaders agree on the need for more troops in Afghanistan. A statement released at the end of the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April stressed the need for allies to provide troops needed in Afghanistan. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has unmet requirements for more forces, including three combat battalions. The NATO force also needs more helicopters and airlift assets, officials have said.

ISAF, which includes such non-NATO allies as Australia, New Zealand, Jordan and 11 other nations, needs troops capable of engaging in full-spectrum combat operations, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday.

In 2009, the United States would like to send 11,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he said. Currently, there are roughly 35,000 U.S. troops in the country — 23,550 assigned to ISAF and another 18,500 assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force 101, U.S. command in the country.

Whitman said the U.S. would like to increase the troop level in Afghanistan by two brigade combat teams and about 4,000 trainers in 2009.

But there can be no discussion of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan without considering troops levels in Iraq, a DoD official said. “The two are tied,” a Pentagon spokesman said on background today.

Since his confirmation as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has said that United States does what it must in Iraq and does what it can in Afghanistan. He has called Afghanistan an “economy of force” mission, with Iraq receiving priority for people, equipment and resources.

Now, Mullen said, the calculus is changing, as the signs of progress in Iraq are unmistakable. Levels of violence are down in Iraq and continue to reduce even as the last of the surge brigades leave the country. “I won’t go so far as to say that progress in Iraq, from a military perspective, has reached a tipping point or it is irreversible,” Mullen said during a July 16 news conference. “It has not, and it is not.

“But security is unquestionably and remarkably better,” he continued. “Indeed, if these trends continue, I expect to be able early in the fall to recommend to the secretary and to the president further troop reductions.”

Defense leaders have said these reductions would open the door for more troops in Afghanistan.

“I think that we are clearly working very hard to see if there are opportunities to send additional forces (to Afghanistan) sooner rather than later,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during the July 16 news conference. “No decisions have been made. No recommendations have been made.”

Defense officials believe units currently on tap to deploy to Iraq could be shifted to Afghanistan if security gains in Iraq hold steady. However, the services cannot just shift a unit training to deploy for Iraq to Afghanistan, Whitman said, adding that it is not so easy to repurpose a force in the midst of training. Forces deploying for combat train to accomplish specific tasks, which are different in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

The enemy, terrain and missions are different, Whitman said. Soldiers would have to familiarize themselves with different languages, cultures and ways of doing business. Units would deploy under different command arrangements and have different nationalities as allies.

Units often work months in advance with the units they are replacing. This, too, would have to be modified, the Pentagon spokesman said on background.

“And the enemy has a vote, too,” the spokesman said.

If events in Iraq take a turn for the worse, any withdrawal will stop. “Any decision on troops will be conditions-based,” the spokesman said.

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